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All Is Fair in War by Zero
All Is Fair in War | Within Regulations
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey guys! I'm dropping a quarantine-themed companion piece to 'A Breath of Fresh Air' in which Miles stays in the Academy with the foreign students and his godfather, and war is declared. As usual, they both work as stand-alones so new readers don't be afraid to skip it or check it out].
Bored teenagers are the most dangerous species in the Universe.
James Whitaker has always believed it, has witnessed it with his very own eyes in the boot camp barracks, but being the headmaster of George Washington Military Boarding School, he gets it thrown into his face. Daily.
And the very year his godson joins, he gets a collective, cosmic-sent curveball with the first pandemic of the century.
The end of the world can take a backseat and in-between the initial rush of logistics to get the most students back home safely amid what could be a potential disaster should one of them get sick, when his godson tests the waters with a torpedo to the very core of the institution he’s responsible for.
"So, since we’re not having classes until further notice and everyone is going home... and I know we have to stay because of your job and all that and foreign students..." his nephew speaks with the voice of a reasonable, mature beyond-his-years young man to him.
"Yes, correct" he answers absent-mindedly, going through his phone and typing instructions to his staff and lets him continue.
"...I get that we’ll also forego haircuts from now on because of the virus, right?".
He looks at his sister’s only son (his only nephew) in a stunned jerk "You what? Where did you get such an idea?".
"Well, how do you expect us to get a haircut with social distancing?" Miles has inherited his sister’s obnoxious, matter-of-factness and uses it against him.
Oh, but he’s come prepared with a tactical response "Easy".
He kneels to pick up a cardboard box from the floor, places it over his desk and slides the cutter blade, he does a clean cut right across the tape and opens it for the teenager to see.
He revels in the second his godson shuts his mouth as he processes the sight of at least a dozen, brand-new hair clippers, each in their own package.
"You’re... kidding, right?" Miles’ hand rises to his overgrown crewcut almost defensively.
"Miles, I’m buzzing my own hair for the time being" he explains in a pristine, perfectioned and practiced affirmative tone his years in the army had granted him "And you and the other students can do the same until we figure this out".
"Come on" the teenager stretches the vowel at the end.
"No, you come on" the retired colonel answers back "I’ll still be running inspections weekly to make sure your hair is according to regulations".
"It’s not like it’s going bring the end of the world as we know it if we don’t cut our hair, and besides, we kind of already are there anyway" his nephew argues.
James concedes and respects the points he’s making, and maybe under different circumstances he would actually let the issue go, but he asserts his authority as headmaster of the boarding school by shutting him down anyway "The world is not ending and you are all keeping your hair according to regulations and that is final".
Miles leaves his godfather’s office with brand-new pair of hair clippers inside a box and a slight push from the man’s hand on his back as the door shuts behind him.
That’s how he finally gets the message: Yeah, this didn’t work out as well as he imagined.
And yeah. His godfather is still going to be Colonel Hardass even in the middle of a pandemic.
He really wishes he was back home with this whole thing going on. But of course, that is not going to be the case.
He sighs and rubs his face with his hand as he walks back to the dorms to rejoin the dozen or so international students that are as trapped inside the boarding school as he is.
"How did the mission go, Kowalski?" all of them receive him eager for news, cracking the door of his dorm open as soon as they hear him return.
"Total failure. He isn’t backing down not even a f***ing inch!" Miles drops the hair clippers inside a drawer and throws his hands up in the air.
"So, with social distancing... we’ll still have inspections and all that s**t?" a sophomore sits uninvited on the bunk bed opposite to Miles’.
"Oh no. We can make him give him!" one of the senior students slams his fist inside his palm.
"My godfather? Give in? Impossible" Miles reclines himself against the desk.
"He hasn’t seen anything yet" the same senior student stands tall and upright "Gentlemen, I propose a...".
"WHAT ARE YOU ALL DOING CRAMMED IN HERE!? SOCIAL! DISTANCING!" one of the officer cadet slams the ajar door against the wall before the sentence is concluded.
The interrupted teenager glares in the other’s direction "Ugh, Canavan, get f***ing lost".
"Shut up, Al-Masri" the red-haired officer cadet crosses his arms and reclines against the door frame "Everyone. OUT!".
Miles watches the others leave in annoyed grunts after Canavan yells at them. Al-Masri stays behind for a few seconds longer.
"Hey, so when is the inspection? Tomorrow?" the senior cadet asks him.
"We’ll build a Great Wall. With our mattresses. And we won’t let them pass" the other smiles malevolently and Miles knows what he’s proposing is a terrible idea.
But a moment of crisis is the time to spark a revolution.
The following Monday morning, before the inspection starts, a barricade of mattresses blocks the entrance to the dorms, making a fence across the halls on both ends of white, hypoallergenic, polyester, cotton and flexible polyurethane foam bricks standing at attention.
Unarmed, but unafraid, Miles and the other resident students await with their doors open for the imminent arrival of the school authorities and maintain their positions.
"What is this nonsense, a declaration of war or something?" his godfather storms in with Canavan tailing behind him "Well, I guess you all don’t mind using your sleeping bags tonight while your mattresses get cleaned and dry, right?" he states out loud, for all of them to hear "You have half an hour to unblock the hall".
He catches the quiet smirk of superiority of the red-haired cadet officer as he hears their headmaster and gets ready to bark at them.
He wins that first battle. When the inspection does take place, in the following hour, his godfather has them all stand at attention in both sides of the hall, at least six feet apart from each other.
"I’m reminding all of you that you’re still required to keep your dorms clean and maintain your hair according to regulations, which you can always check with your company commander and in the school guidelines".
So, his godfather has decided to employ passive-aggressive tactics. Good, he has of those in spare and he isn’t afraid to use unconventional methods of combat either.
That night they all meet inside his dorm, under a fortress of sheets and flashlights, whispering at ungodly hours and plotting.
"We need to get rid of Canavan" Miles points out.
"How are we going to do that?" a first-year student asks.
"Easy" Al-Masri shrugs "We’ll quarantine him" he points with the flashlight to a hulking African-American senior "Houston, can we count on your acting skills from the drama club to convince your roommate that you’re sick?".
"You f***ing owe me" the other student laughs.
Harry Canavan’s roommate is sick.
His only remaining cadet officer inside the school comes inside his office to report he’s had a non-stop cough, fever and lethargy, and he has to make a hard decision. They don’t know for sure what he has, but they can’t risk it.
Neither Canavan or any of his roommates are allowed to leave their dorm or come close to other students or staff for the following two weeks.
The rest of the students are apparently postponing cutting their hair for as long as they can. Foregoing on their own the usual monthly or bi-monthly maintenance they’re expected to follow. He keeps observing them and sends a message yet again to remind them of the guidelines before things keep going further.
He gets a message back from his godson.
‘Sir, we have been running informal inspections on our own and all of us are currently following the grooming guidelines: Hair short off the collars, off the ears and off the face.
We are however, still concerned about how should we proceed with the matter of haircuts in social distance?
We find the shared use of hair clippers also a risk factor for contagion. Perhaps this is how cadet Canavan and cadet Jackson got infected?
Best, Cadet Miles Kowalski’.
Oh, so he’s not giving up. James Whitaker sighs and replies curtly to his godson.
‘Disinfect the clippers, cadet’.
Then, a couple days go by when Miles shows up eerily overly casual and asks if he can join a trip to the store downtown with the other students. Far too overly casual.
The only thing worse than a teenager left on his own is a teenager surrounded by a pack of other teenagers, on their own.
However, by the principles of the twisted logic of a teenaged mind, the only thing worse than being expected to do things is being forbidden to do them, so, against his better judgement, James replies:
He stops and takes note of how the ‘sir’ and the salute is emphatic and energetic.
Something is definitely up. But it’s Sunday evening and he’s not in the mood to figure out what that could possibly be.
"And cut your hair before tomorrow, Miles" he throws at him before he leaves.
Miles arrives from the store with his own bag of snacks that was inspected and approved by his godfather as they came back from downtown. He lets out a breath and closes the door of his dorm after the drops the goods in a drawer and takes the still boxed hair clippers.
He knocks the door on his neighbor’s dorm. He hears him answer that he can come in.
He runs a hand through his grown crewcut, feeling the locks that are finally longer than his fingers and rise above them.
"Kowalski, you’re insane" the senior cadet shakes his head from side to side.
"It’s psychological warfare, García" he smiles wickedly as he moves the chair away from his desk to the middle of the room and sits on it.
For some reason the fact that he isn’t allowed to do as he pleases with his hair anymore has him wanting to do any possible thing with it.
And his godfather did say cut it.
García pops the guard off the hair clippers and turns them on.
He stills Miles’ head and gets the whirring clippers straight inside his hairline, and pulls back all the way to the end of his nape and a fistful of brown hair falls off his head.
He lets out a breath and fingers the buzzed down trail on the top of his head, right above his eyebrow with an amused grin and a swear on his lips.
"Hey, don’t move! Do you want me to mess this up or what?" García tilts his head slightly to one side and carves a path at the exact same distance and angle of the first one, Miles hears the crackle of the clippers as they go through his hair and feels the warm vibration against his skin.
He laughs and lets the other cadet keep shaping up his hair. He angles the clippers towards the buzzed path on the right side and trims the edges further, straightening the line as much as he can as he runs them down over his temples.
García starts skinning his sides and he feels his sideburns come off clean in one motion as a bunch of brown hair tumbles down the floor.
"You’re cleaning that up, right?".
"Yeah, don’t worry about that, Al-Masri has a vacuum cleaner, it will be spotless" Miles remains still as the older cadet folds his ear and shaves off the hair around it.
He makes the line of hair at the back narrower as it goes down into the nape, in what seems to be an acute angle, shaped sharp at a V, removing everything that surrounds it down to skin.
The other side comes next. Miles’s never had the bare blades of the clippers that high as García buzzes down to zero all the hair around his temples and he feels it scratches and rasps to the touch of his fingertips.
The sides of his head start to feel far too cool and airy, as most of the back when the machine goes over the last patches on his nape.
"Okay, so, what about this?" the senior cadet’s hand hovers over the trail of remaining hair at the center of his head.
Well, he’s already come quite far so "Buzz it to a two".
García secures an attachment over the clippers and makes Miles tilt his head back. He shuts his eyes as the machine goes for the middle of his forehead and the longest locks on his head drift down to the floor.
The senior cadet does the same thing in reverse as he then pushes his chin to his chest and clips the back until it’s all evened with the hair buzzed short on top.
The clippers go quiet and Miles slides his fingers over the top of his head with amused shock "S**t".
"Dude" the other cadet says in disbelief.
He jumps from the chair to the full body mirror next to the closet door and sees himself. F***. He did it. His hair is cut into a mohawk. His hand rubs the back, feels the contrast between the trail at the center of his skull and the clipper-shaved sides trying not to raise his voice and bring attention to the dorm.
"Thanks, García" he beams at the senior cadet "I’ll be right back in thirty minutes or so to clean this up".
"You’re going to get the ass-chewing of a lifetime tomorrow" García combs his Ivy League with his fingers "F***, I’m going get my ass chewed too if they know I gave you that haircut. Dude, don’t push it further, just shower and leave it like that".
"Relax" he turns towards him "I’ll gladly sacrifice myself for my fellow brothers in arms. Besides, I asked my girlfriend about it; I have this whole box-dye thing down" Miles picks up the packaged product in one hand and gives the other cadet an over confident smile.
The next morning, as Al-Masri and the rest line up for inspection, he hears the snickers and sees the shocked expressions of the other cadets that didn’t know anything before the colonel arrives.
Oh, to get to see Canavan’s face if he wasn’t quarantined if he saw him.
Miles thinks his godfather’s will have to suffice and it more than does.
"Cadet Kowalski, I see you cut your..." his godfather eyes the skinned sides first, then he gets to the rest of his scalp and the back of his head and his voice drops "Kowalski. Why in the world is your hair is blue?".
"Actually, it’s indigo, sir" he fights back the smile trying to break its way to his face and clears his throat.
The retired colonel repeats the question, far too shocked to answer him "Why in the world is your hair is blue?".
Miles manages to keep his poker face on "There are no rules concerning hair color, I checked, sir".
"This is straight-up common sense! And you shaved it into a mohawk!?".
"It’s off my ears, off my face and my collar, sir. Just as ordered" the teenager tries to hold in the snicker clawing at his chest "Of course, I’m not a professional barber so, I did what I could".
García is avoiding all eye-contact, knowing he’ll get dragged along him if he gets questioned further. Al-Masri is doing the most awkward breathing exercises as he’s trying to keep stone-faced.
"Kowalski" the army officer calls him with a threatening tone.
There’s a pause.
Then his godfather sighs and talks to the rest of them, his voice echoing across the hall "Okay, for all of you. You can forego the haircuts while this situation goes on" then his eyes fall back on him "But you, cadet Kowalski, are getting that mohawk shaved off. I’ll be expecting you".
James Whitaker sees his godson come into his dorm with that f***ing blue stripe over the top of his head, glaring brightly underneath the sunlight.
He to whom God gives no sons, the devil gives nephews, indeed.
Soon enough, Miles is sitting on a stool and he’s maneuvering the clippers over the teenager’s scalp with the remains of the blue-colored strands littering the floor.
"My sister would kill you and then she would kill me if she saw you like this".
"To be fair, I don’t think my mom would be a fan of the shaved head either" Miles gets the cord of the machine away from his face with his hand.
James smiles unseen by his godson "Well, at least you won’t need another haircut in a while, so this is a win-win situation" he turns off the clippers and brushes his head with his hand.
The teenager scoffs "How come you haven’t cut your hair yet with one of those clippers you’ve ordered?" he looks over his shoulder in his direction.
The retired colonel turns on the hair clippers again. He holds the hair on the top of his head back, to clear the path to his hairline and drives the blades straight through the middle of his head.
He remembers the sensation from his induction cut at the Military Academy as he slides them back to his crown and brushes the clipped swath of stubble. He makes eye contact with the teenager briefly.
"That’s better, colonel" his nephew gives him a triumphant smirk.
All things considered, a truce is called for, but he needs to assert his authority as Miles’ guardian anyway.
"When this is sorted out, you are getting a high and tight and keeping it as soon as this is over for the rest of the school year" he bends his head forward and makes a second pass through his dark hair.
"Okay, fine" Miles laughs "Need help?".
He heads back to his dorm as quietly as possible. He knows he’s getting swarmed by the other cadets as soon as he gets back and with Canavan unable to enforce social distancing his room is going to turn into a crammed headquarter yet again, if they aren’t waiting for him already there.
Maybe he’ll tell them that his godfather threatened to shave his head with a razor. After all, they have disrupted the school enough already with the mattress episode and him with the blue mohawk and he feels he owes it to his godfather to cooperate with the order among the rest.
"Dude" Al-Masri catches him in the staircase later and sees his freshly shaved head.
Miles puts his hands inside his pockets "I know".
"You look..." the senior cadet starts.
He repeats, cutting him short "I. Know".
Al-Masri finishes, flashing him a fraternal smile "...You look badass".
Miles rubs the skin-length stubble all over his head almost proudly.
He won the war.