September 30, 2012 by Lyn
Friday, September 26, 2003 – last class of the day
It was astonishing, she thought, how quickly you got used to the strange and unusual. How swiftly living in a fantasy novel became normal, and you found yourself accommodating things like your boyfriend’s – Keeper’s – wings or watching out for people’s tails in PE.
It was taking her longer to get used to her own Changes. The hooves, in particular. She still skidded whenever she hit a smooth surface, and she wasn’t sure about the rubber-soled slip-ons Luke had gotten for her. Sure, they stopped the slipping, but they felt weird. Never mind if she wasn’t supposed to have feeling in her hooves.
And the voice… She would probably be quicker to accustom herself to silence if she didn’t talk so much at home, with Arundel. Unlike everyone else in her life, he really seemed to like listening to just about anything she wanted to say, and she found she liked listening to him, too. They’d been together for less than two weeks, and it already felt completely natural to share everything with him.
And then she left the room. Classes were the worst; she was used to being quiet in social situations, like with Arundel’s crew, and didn’t really mind him speaking for her. But in class, she’d go to answer a question and find herself having to write everything down, or, like this, turn to talk to a classmate, only to see them flinching away.
“Hi, Cein… sorry.” She pulled out her flashcards. She’d been soothing herself by making them as pretty as possible, and trying to imagine situations where she’d need stranger and stranger conversational gambits.
She happened to have one for this situation.
[How are you doing?]
Ceinwen smiled wanly at the card. “I’m doing okay, thanks.” She didn’t seem like she was trying too hard to make it sound believable. Timora held up her most useful card.
“Mmm?” The other girl tilted her head. “I’m okay.” Her hand went to the necklace of amber plaques around her neck, though Timora didn’t think she was aware she was doing it. “Thorburn and I are getting used to each other. Dating is weird. Sometimes it makes it hard to focus on homework, you know? That’s why I was planning on staying single this year.”
There was, Timora thought, a lot going on between the lines there. Wasn’t planning on dating. She may have taken the collar willingly – which made it sound like a religious order, didn’t it? – but she knew a lot of people hadn’t. She knew, now, what Calvin had been trying to get out of her.
She didn’t have a card for all that, so she started writing. Arundel had bought her pretty gel markers in a rainbow of colors; for Ceinwen, she picked blue, because it seemed like something they had in common.
Ceinwen started talking before she got past [It’s weird?]
“What about you? You were spending a lot of time with Calvin, weren’t you? And now it’s Arundel that picks you up after class?”
Oh, that could look bad, couldn’t it? Timora looked at what she’d written, and added to it.
[It’s weird? But it’s not a bad sort of weird. Arundel ~rescued~ me. He ~protects~ me. And he doesn’t mind my >voice<.]
“It’s getting better, isn’t it? Your voice?”
That took some more writing.
[It’s a power. I am learning to control it, but it defaults to “on.”] That was one she might need to use again, so she drew a pretty border around it after she showed it to Ceinwen.
“I wish I had a power like that. I wish I had a power at all.”
This one, Timora had a well-used card for. Her Change, hers and Garfunkel’s and a couple others, had come far sooner than the rest of their Cohort, it seemed.
[It will come. Give it time.]
Ceinwen laughed. “You get that one a lot, don’t you? But you Changed right away. Thorburn says it’s supposed to be stress, but it’s not like my Hell Night wasn’t stressful, too.” She sounded a bit resentful. Timora had gotten that more than once, too.
[I hear it’s different for everyone. I get scared really easily.]
“I wish I did. I just get mad. When I get mad…” She folded her arms over her chest and looked away.
Timora didn’t know what to say – to write – to that. She could go around screaming at everyone, but in the end, they would still end up Owning the people they already Owned.
This school needed some sort of white knight for everyone. She didn’t think she could do it.
He probably shouldn’t be in Biology class again, but he liked it, and Professor Pelletier taught it a little bit differently every year. Besides, he and Shira had gone over the class list, and it had seemed to her that this class might need him more than her other sciences.
This time of year, especially – now, and at the holidays – things could get really tense. He felt the air in the room, the moods swirling through it. Yes, quite a bit of tension today.
“Ambrus,” Shira had said to him, as she had for the last two years, “you don’t have to do this. You’re here to study. That was the plan, wasn’t it?”
“I wanted to come here to learn.” And learning here was a nice safe step away from Regine, without actually walking away from her too far, yet. “But come on. A fifteen-year-old who just found out she had to have kids changed this place irrevocably, even if they don’t know it yet. I could be her grandfather -“
“That, for sure. Anyway, I can do something. And this is something I do well.”
“You just want an excuse not to take Advanced Chem.”
She hadn’t tried to stop him, and neither had Feu Drake, his Mentor (and his ancestor, but around here, that was barely worth mentioning). She knew he was right, and Grandpa Drake figured, or so he said, that it would be a learning experience for Ambrus.
So here he was, tasting the tension in the room. Near the front of the room, Shang was vibrating with the same low-level tension he’d been giving off since the reveal first Friday. If the boy had displayed any interest in other guys… but he hadn’t, so Ambrose left him alone.
Belfreja was giving off jitters, too. Not bad ones, not oh-woe-is-me, more like someone-is-hunting me. Of course, almost everyone was hunting her. Ambrose had made his attempt – and not just because the voice that served as a conscience and sounded a lot like Regine said that a mixing of his genes with Linden’s and Aelfgar’s would make a beautiful, explosive child – but he knew where he wasn’t wanted, and didn’t press.
And in the back of the room, Timora and Ceinwen – both of whom Shira and he had agreed he should not try for – were giving off strong vibes of uncertainty and unhappiness. Timora, Kept by Arundel – that shouldn’t be bad, but sometimes the cy’Lucas were horrid while trying to be good. And Ceinwen was Kept by Thorburn, and who knew how much of a mess that was going to be until they worked things out.
He sat down in front of Ceinwen and turned to look at the two of them, best cocky bad-boy grin (borrowed from several of his sons) making his face look even younger than it normally did. “Ladies.” He tipped an imaginary hat at both of them.
Timora made a face at him. She liked to do that, a nose-wrinkle that said he was being far too silly for her to be bothered with.
She held up a sign for him anyway, and her emotions rippled amusement, not irritation.
Ceinwen waved weakly, her mood far more shaky and uncertain. She didn’t look like she’d been sleeping, and her emotions said much the same.
“Hey, Ambrose.” At least she was answering; at least there wasn’t that moment of self-searching to see if her orders allowed her to answer. That, more than anything else Keepers did, that filled Ambrose with anger.
…Anger he hadn’t realized he had in him until he’d come here as a student, anger he realized, after weeks and months and years on Mendosa’s couch (and not on Maria’s, not until she was convinced that he had worked through many of his issues), came from the way Regine had treated him.
Anger that had nothing to do with Ceinwen or Timora, who were waiting for him to say something witty. Focus, Ambrose. Focus. Their Keepers are not monsters. Probably. “How’re you two this afternoon?” He dialed the charm down, trying for just-friendly. He didn’t want to spook them.
Timora took the time to write out an answer, rather than using a flash card. Red, hunh? He wondered what had decided her on red for him. Maybe it was the first marker to come to hand.
[I’m doing just fine. Ceinwen, on the other hand…]
“Timora!” Her hiss sounded half angry and half panicked. “Rip that up! What if someone reads it?”
“Maybe they should.” Her banshee-voice still felt like it was going to rip out Ambrus’ ear drums, and at that it was getting better. Even while he was wincing, though, he noticed she was looking straight at him.
She held up a card to both of them, one she had written in black Sharpie, in big letters. Something she’d used before, then.
[People should pay attention].
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