September 26, 2012 by Lyn
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
If the halls of Addergoole had been a D&D dungeon – and he wasn’t entirely certain that they weren’t – Noam would have been the thief.
He had neatly avoided the pretty-girl-wants-to-have-sex-with-you-far-too-easily trap the night of the first dance, although not all his friends had been as wise. He had dodged and sidestepped the very literal pit trap on what it seemed the upperclassmen wanted to call Hell Night the next weekend, although he hadn’t managed to rescue others who had fallen into the same. And he’d brought bottled water and his own beer to the after-the-dance party the third weekend, and avoided the roofies that had gotten another classmate, possibly two. He’d earned himself the enmity of several upperclassmen at that party, for dragging one of his friends out into the hall and shouting for help until Luke had shown up. Noam had no illusions; he wasn’t going to win any fights with brute force. With any sort of force, for that matter. But he was the thief; he just had to be clever.
When his Change had knocked him out in the middle of PE, he’d been lucky enough to pass out, well, in PE, rather than in the hallways. When his Change had turned out to be almost entirely decorative, he’d dodged the three cy’Lindens who suddenly found him irresistible and convinced at least two of them that they weren’t his type. He was beginning to be a little proud of his detect traps ability.
He later told himself that it wasn’t that the ability had failed him, but that he hadn’t been looking for a trap after History class. History was, he’d thought, safe territory. Back in town, as it were. Not in the middle of a pub (that was Lit).
So when Hera had asked him to give her help carrying her overloaded book-bag, he’d looked at her – short, more than a foot shorter than him, stocky, and, while she had a certain birdlike appeal, small and bouncy, she wasn’t sexy in the way of some of her classmates – and decided she was safe. Her book-bag was nearly as big as she was, and it was, he had to admit, very heavy. He wasn’t very well going to say no. It would have been rude.
Rude. He’d laugh about that now, but he didn’t seem able to. She’d muttered a few words – he recognized them from their magic-testing session, but neither “Tempero” nor “Intinn” had been ones he could pronounce with any ease – and then made him say something he’d been going out of his way not to say since he’d watched Wylie trapped by them their first week here.
Caught by the cleric, he thought ruefully. And he now Belonged to a girl who barely came up to his chest.
“What-” he tried to ask, before remembering that she’d ordered him to follow silently. Why was a more important question, anyway. He didn’t think he was her type; he didn’t even think she was the type to do that sort of thing, to trap a guy just because she could. And, anyway, if she could, so easily, why not pick someone else? Why him?
“It’s cheating, of course,” she told him blithely. “But you’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”
Not like this, he wasn’t. He shook his head hurriedly no – I’ll be good, but could you please let me just talk?
“Of course not. You’re adorable, Noam. I’m sure you know that. Flaky and sort of dumb, but beautiful. With a name like Noam, I guess I can’t blame you.”
Dumb! He glared indignantly at her. Her cheating trickery didn’t make him dumb! Sure, she was a smart little midget, everyone knew that, but that didn’t give her the right to call him stupid!
“Now come in here, would you, and then hold still.” He walked into her room and, entirely unwillingly, held still. He could still glare at her, and he did so, angry and, although he’d never admit it, terrified. “That’s a good boy. Damn, you really are pretty. Brenna is really going to enjoy you. You can talk, by the way, while we’re in my room.”
“Brenna?” He knew that name. He’d seen her looking at him a couple times from the back of the room, a pretty girl, with short, dark curly hair and big doe eyes. She, unlike most of the upperclassmen, hadn’t un-Masked her Changes. She’d also never spoken to him, never followed him from classes. He’d put her, like Hera, in the not-a-trap category. Apparently, his Detect Traps skill needed some more XP put into it.
“It’s her birthday, you see. And she thinks you’re cute, but she’s not very good at communicating these things. You should thank me,” she added. “Brenna’s good people. And someone as pretty and dumb as you, it’s just been blind luck you haven’t been caught yet.”
“I’m not…” Noam gave up. If this infuriating bitch wanted to think he was stupid, let her. What would it matter? He was trapped. He couldn’t move, and, even if he could, he’d have to run really fast to get out of earshot. And then what? He’d been paying attention. He couldn’t really get away from her – the school had no exits, or, if they had, he hadn’t gone through enough of the dungeon to find them yet – so running was, at best, a stalling measure.
It’s her birthday… You should thank me.
“Thank you,” he said, not certain if that had been an order or not. “You think Brenna will like me?” As conversational gambits went, that one was pretty lame, but she already thought he was a moron, and he wasn’t really trying to make friends with her. He had her pretty firmly in the category of not-friend, and planned on keeping her there.
“I know I had a ribbon around here somewhere… Aistrigh Unutu. There, that ought to match your patterning better. Hold still.”
“Already holding still,” he muttered.
“Aren’t you clever,” she crooned sarcastically, as she tied a teal-green ribbon around his neck. “Yes, I think Brenna will like you. She’d been complaining that she can’t find anyone.”
“She talks, then?” He hadn’t been certain.
Hera chuckles. “She’s shy. It’s probably why she can’t find anyone. But you’ll be good to her, won’t you?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Well…” She patted his shoulder and studied him thoughtfully. “I plan on giving you to her, you know, not Keeping you myself and letting her just play with you. That would be entertaining, I suppose, but you’re really not my type.”
“I guessed,” he muttered. Too pretty, too dumb…
“Mm-hrmm. I like my men shorter, brighter, and stronger. Less Dionysus and more Hephaestus.”
The back-handed compliments and insults were giving him whiplash. She liked him, but she thought he was stupid. Not her type, but pretty and god-like. He wanted to nod, couldn’t, so just made a little noise instead.
“Don’t grunt, dear, it’s not pretty. Here, take your… no. You’re holding still like a good boy.” She stood on her toes to unbutton his shirt and tug it out of his pants, leaving him blushing at the contact. “There. You may move enough to take your shirt off. Leave it on my bed.”
He shrugged his shirt off and let it fall on the mess of her blankets. Like this, almost all the markings of his Change were showing. He hoped she decided that was enough, and didn’t make him show the rest of them.
“Mmm.” She studied her work critically. “One more ribbon… Aistrigh Unutu… you can move enough to put your wrists behind your back, crossed over each other.”
He didn’t like where that was going, but he did it anyway, rolling his shoulders a little bit, trying to get comfortable. She walked around behind him, muttering to herself, nothing he could quite hear, and tied the second ribbon around his wrists, rather firmly.
“Don’t try to get out of that, mind you. You can move now. Follow me; we’re going to go see Brenna.”
“My shirt?” he asked, even though he had a feeling it was a lost cause.
“Mmm. I’ll bring it by later, don’t want to ruin the effect. Hush now, and not another word until Brenna says you’re hers.”
He hushed and followed, because he didn’t have any choice in the matter, frowning at her back. He felt conspicuous, exposed, and cold, all of which were pretty accurate, shirtless, bound, and following a girl more than a foot shorter than him like a trained puppy.
What if someone sees me like this?
The uncomfortable thought was replaced quickly by a panicked Is he looking at me? as they rounded a turn and came face-to-face with Jabez. The short, dark, dragon-like boy shared a PE class and a History class with Noam, but they’d never really spoken, and they weren’t starting now. His eyes slid right over Noam.
“Hera,” he nodded at the short girl.
“Hey, Jabez,” she replied, and that was it. Noam might as well have not been there at all.
“Don’t frown,” Hera scolded, when the other boy was out of sight around a curve. “It makes you look sullen.”
He felt sullen. But he smiled anyway, trying to make it not look horribly fake.
“That’s better.” She patted his back. “And here we are.” She stopped by a dorm door – fourth pod, one over from Noam’s. His heart did weird things in his chest as she knocked, and he spent a bad couple minutes trying to find a loophole in her orders. He didn’t really have to stand here waiting like a… well, like a birthday present, did he?
But he did. He found he could sigh, as long as it was silent, and managed that just as the door opened.
Brenna hadn’t been expecting company, he was fairly certain: she was wearing a long t-shirt over leggings, her hair pulled back in a kerchief. Her TV was going in the background, and the smell of popcorn filled the room.
“Hera!” She stepped back into her room a couple jittery steps, looking uncertain. “And… Noam?” Her voice squeaked a little. “Hera, what did you…”
“Happy birthday, Brenna.” The short girl pushed Noam forward until he almost bumped against her friend’s threshold. “He’s yours now.”
“You… got me a boy?” She reached out for Noam, and, somehow, he managed not to flinch back. “You got me Noam?”
Was that a good thing or a bad thing? He didn’t know, and he couldn’t ask, so he smiled gamely at her. She’d always seemed like a nice girl. Could she fix this?
“I did. Take him, Brenna, I think you’ll have fun breaking him in.”
No, no, he didn’t want that. He shook his head unhappily, nervously, but Brenna just smiled. She had, he noticed, what would be a very nice smile under other circumstances.
“I think I will. This is the nicest gift I’ve gotten this year. Come in, Noam, you’re mine now.”
“Tell her you’re hers.” Hera was still pushing him gently. For lack of anything better to do, Noam stepped into Brenna’s room.
“I’m yours.” He clamped his mouth shut, but it was too late.
“You two have fun,” Hera chirped, and headed down the hall. Brenna closed the door, locking a struggling Noam – he could struggle! He’d better do it fast! – in with her.
“So…” She looked him up and down, smiling uncertainly. “This might be fun.”
He didn’t have any orders! There was nothing holding him from saying anything he wanted! Noam opened his mouth to tell Brenna exactly what he thought of “fun.”
Except, of course, as far as he knew, there wasn’t any way out of Belonging to someone except having them let you go. He closed his mouth again. Upsetting her right off the bat was probably not what he wanted to do. He tugged at the ribbons a little more, though, just on principle.
Brenna’s face fell. “You don’t want to be here.”
Shit. ”I didn’t say that.”
“You’re trying to get away.”
“I’m trying to get untied. Trying to get away would involve more backing towards the door and fumbling with the doorknob.” He gave her his best smile. “I’m not going to lie to you, this wasn’t my idea. Hera caught me in the halls. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think dating you would be a good idea.” Dating, please. Noam was pretty sure he could handle dating.
She touched his pectoral lightly, as if worried it would burn her. When it didn’t light on fire, she set her hand, palm-down, across his chest. “You never said anything.”
“Neither did you. I figured you weren’t interested.”
“Oh.” She looked down at their toes. At her Masked toes, he noted, even here in her bedroom, and his still in shoes. “Oh.”
He kept smiling at her. Smiling seemed good. Her touch seemed very good. “You know, if you let me go, we could date. I’d like that a lot.”
She frowned. “You’re just saying that so I’ll let you go.”
“Well, I’m hoping you’ll let me go, yeah, but I would like dating you, too.” Gods, please?
She bit her lip and shook her head. She hadn’t Masked her teeth. They were very, very sharp. “Nobody stays around me long if they have a choice.”
She wasn’t going to let him go, was she? He might as well make the best of it. Noam smiled for her, hoping it wasn’t too fake-looking (Again. He was going to have to spend XP on charisma and bluffing). “Well, I’m yours.”
“You are,” she agreed. “For a while, at least. It’s not forever.”
“Well, if I had to be Owned by someone…” which he’d been doing such a good job of avoiding, thank you very much, “I’m glad it was you.” He gave the ribbon around his wrists a little tug. He could probably undo it now. Maybe he should wait and let her untie it instead. “What do you think about it?”
“I think…” She looked him over hesitantly, sidelong, uncertainly. “I think you’re mine?”
“Okay.” It was a starting point, at least. “And what do you want to do with me?”
She tugged on the ribbon around his neck. “Unwrap you…” Her shy look up at him was heart-rending. “If that’s okay?”
Noam cleared his throat. “Yeah. That’s okay. I can handle that.”
Friday, September 26, 2003
“Do you think there’s like a remedial class, or some sort of junior special kids class we’re not allowed to see?” Lee leaned forward over the lunch table at Brenna, who leaned back, trying to hide behind Noam. She was, he was learning, painfully shy, and only nominally less skittish around him than around everyone else. She might keep unwrapping her gift every time they were alone, but she wouldn’t go any further. It was beginning to drive him nuts. And that was beginning to make his friends try to intervene.
“Lee, are you on about the monsters in the walls again? I think he got hit on his head on Hell Night.” Quintus smiled sympathetically at Brenna as he apologized; Lee brushed that off with a wave of his hand. They were sitting at what Lee had jokingly called the Free Range Guys table, and never mind that Noam wasn’t in any way Free Range anymore.
“It was just a little bump, nothing serious. Look, I was down in professor Akatil’s office yesterday, talking to him about laying some T1 cable in this place. I mean, it’s two thousand and three and they don’t even have modems, much less real internet. I thought maybe they were hiding it while we got used to the whole spooky-monster thing, but, well, they’re still hiding it, and if I’m not used to my buddy having butterfly tattoos yet, I’m never going to be.” Lee didn’t really stop to breathe or eat so much as he crammed food in around the words. “And anyway, there I was – and if he isn’t a D&D gnome, I don’t know who is, am I right, Noam?”
Noam didn’t even try to get a word in edgewise, just nodded. The tiny technologies teacher was pretty gnomish.
“And I swear by all that’s holy, there in the hall, skittering past me, was some sort of… midget.”
“A kid?” Quintus offered. “Somebody was mentioning a daughter the other day in the locker room. I think it was Abaddon.”
“I can tell the difference between a goblin and a kid, man… probably. I can probably tell. Kids don’t normally have like green skin, do they?”
“Brenna, what in the name of the thirteen departed gods are you doing?”
Hera’s entrance saved them all from explaining to Lee the difference between a goblin and a child, and figuring out exactly what he’d seen. (Noam’s money was on Hera. He’d no more seen her without her mask than he’d seen Brenna that way. And she was cy’Akatil. Maybe she was green and even tinier underneath.) On the other hand, Hera’s entrance meant they had to deal with Hera.
This was a feat Brenna was not equipped for. She squeaked, and turned to Noam. He tried to hide a flinch; that was just going to get Hera to…
“Geeze, Brenna, you’re not supposed to ask him what do to, he’s supposed to ask you.” Noam hid another wince as his friends perked up. There was going to be a fight, and it was going to be messy. “Did he talk you into sitting over here, instead of with me?”
He had, actually, but that wasn’t going to help matters. With Hera, he’d learned, much like that first encounter, nothing he said did anything to change her opinion of him; he was beginning to believe nothing anyone said would change any of her opinions.
Brenna, much to his surprise, stood up to her – possibly only – friend. “I thought Noam might enjoy spending lunches with his friends instead of mine.”
“Bren, that’s not how it works, and you know it.”
“What, she shouldn’t treat her boyfriend like a human being?” Lee was out of his seat and glaring at everyone involved. This was going to get bad.
“Why should she? It’s not like any of us are human, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Hera sneered up at the much, much taller Lee. “Grow up, little boy.”
He looked down at her with disdain. His Change had stretched him like taffy, giving him another foot of height and turning him blue. For a week, they’d called the place Willy Wonka’s Fairy Factory. “You first.”
Brenna looked between them, her friend and Noam’s friend, her face falling. “Maybe we should…”
“Of course you should. Bren, I told you, if you let him walk all over you, it’s going to be just like the last two years all over again.”
“No, it’s not.” Noam knew he shouldn’t interfere, but Hera was really getting under his skin. Besides, if he didn’t take this hit, Lee was going to dive in half-cocked and get himself hurt or brain-warped – more brain-warped than he already was. “Because I’m not that asshole.” He touched the collar, not caring how entirely whupped it made him seem. “And I know I don’t get to be in charge.”
“Then why’s she doing what you want instead of what she wants?” The tiny girl snarled up at him. “I’m not the moron here, pretty boy.”
“I think you mean ‘…instead of what you want.’ I wouldn’t dream of asking Brenna to do something she didn’t want.” That had the uncomfortable benefit of being the truth.
Quintus snorted, and Lee laughed outright, neither of them helping his case or his pride. “Noam.” Quintus’s voice was full of patient condescension. “You wouldn’t dream of asking Brenna if you could go piss if your bladder was about to explode. If you walked any lighter around her you’d have to be the butterfly your tattoos are pretending to be. If you were any more flattened, you’d be pinned to a wall. If you were…”
“Okay, okay, I get the point. Hera gets the point.”
“What, exactly, is the point?” Hera was glaring at all of them now. “Except that you’re not being a good pet like I told you to and doing what Brenna wants?”
“Have you asked Brenna?” Lee was still standing to loom over Hera, but he was smiling. It might not be a very nice smile, but it was a smile, at least. “I mean, she was sitting here talking with us, seeming to have a good time. It’s not like Noam dragged her over here by her hair or anything, she just wandered on over and sat down and hey, we have room, and we like seeing our friends. You could sit down, you know, and make everyone – well, okay, probably not happy, but you’d get to sit with your friend and we’d get to sit with our friend.”
“You don’t always get what you want.” Hera looked ready to throw a tantrum, but Noam could spare very little attention for her; Brenna looked as if she was trying to slide under the desk.
“Why don’t we just go over to the normal table?” she whispered. The pale, nauseated look on her face made Noam want to hug her tight and comfort her, but that was as likely to spook her as anything else.
“If that’s what you want.” He began piling stuff back onto a tray. “Sorry, guys.”
“No, come on, sit down.” Quintus shook his head at both of them. “You’re just giving in to bullying, Noam, and it’s stupid. Sit here. This little bitch can’t tell you what to do.”
“I can damn well tell him what to do if I want to.” Hera glared up at Quintus. “Meet me in the halls today if you don’t believe me.”
“If you’re meeting him, you’re meeting all of us.”
Hera laughed at Lee. “Both of you, you mean. Do you really think Brenna would let Noam go up against me? And I can beat you two children with both hands tied behind my back.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” Quintus stood, too, smiling in an unpleasant way. “You might have two years of Working on us, but we have five feet of height on you. Still want to challenge us?”
“Guys, guys!” Noam patted Brenna’s back awkwardly. “Guys, you’re just making Brenna miserable.”
“You’re the one that insisted she sit away from her friends.” Hera turned her anger back onto Noam.
“Actually,” Brenna whispered, “I thought he might like seeing his friends once in a while. I thought, just because I couldn’t…”
“Fine.” Hera huffed and puffed, but it was clear she had been disarmed. “I’ll see you at dinner?”
“You’ll see me at dinner,” she agreed, losing what little spark she’d been showing. “Have a good day, Hera.”
The table held their breath until the little girl huffed off.
“Exactly why are you friends with her again?” It wasn’t clear whether Quintus was asking Noam or Brenna. Since Noam wasn’t friends with her, however, he let his Owner answer.
Brenna, folded in on herself, barely muttered out something over her knees. “She took care of me.”
There were times when Noam wished he was a fighter. Looking at her like this… he wished he was the sort of guy to kill someone else.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
Noam held the Dining Hall door for Brenna. He had always liked being a bit over the top, and now she made these shy little smiles at him every time he did something like that, which just made him like doing it even more.
So he held the door for her, and gestured like he was a bard instead of the thief (since he was a lousy thief anyway, maybe he should consider dual-classing), and she made the little noise that wasn’t quite a giggle, and stepped through, swishing imaginary skirts. He assumed they were imaginary; for all he knew, under the Mask she never dropped, she was wearing lots and lots of skirts. Although that would make… no. He shouldn’t go there. Not in the Dining Hall, at least.
He was pretty sure he was blushing as badly as she was by that point, so he covered it by dropping a question into the mess. “So, I didn’t see you at the first two dances this year.” He used the very, very casual tone he’d been practicing a lot with her. It was like stalking a wounded animal, something very sharp and possibly poisonous. If he hit the wrong note, she could hurt him a lot, and maybe hurt herself in the process. He didn’t want that.
He was rewarded for his care with a shy, nervous smile. “No, I don’t normally go to things like that. You noticed?”
“I did,” he reaffirmed. He hadn’t been looking specifically for her, but he had been looking around. “Not your sort of thing?”
“There’s a lot of people, and nobody nice ever dances with me, and it’s loud.” She was still peeking at him, in that way that looked coy and was probably just nervous. “Do you like dances?”
“I like them for a little while. Parties were generally more my thing… parties back home.” He threw the clarification in quickly as she paled. “Not these things here. These are just pit traps.”
She relaxed. “The dances can be traps, too.”
“Ah, but you have me now.”
“Hey guys.” Hera plopped down at the table. “Do you believe some moron is still trying to freak out the new blood? There’s graffiti on the walls again. Third time this week; Akatil’s going to be livid.”
Noam wondered, just a bit, what the technologies prof had to do with graffiti, but he was much more concerned with Brenna’s expression, a thoughtful thing that might possibly be a good thing or might be…
She tugged on the back of his collar. She didn’t do it firmly or painfully, just like she had something new to play with and wasn’t sure how to handle it. He wasn’t sure what she wanted, either, so he leaned back. Damn. Nope, that hadn’t been the right direction.
“I have you now.” She echoed his words. Her smile looked sharper than it ought to, and less human. Noam tried to think about something safe – a nice boring math problem, something like that. He didn’t want to look scared of her. He’d looked scared on Tuesday and she’d gone into the bathroom and cried for half an hour.
“Hey, Bren.” Hera threw a roll at her head. “Focus. Have you eaten?”
Noam was surprised by the sudden chagrin in his Owner’s expression. “Noooo?” She drew it out, looking like a five-year-old who hadn’t done her chores.
“Stop yanking your present around and eat. He can make moon eyes at you after you’ve got something in your stomach.” She lobbed another roll at Brenna. “Now.
“Okaaaay.” She jammed a roll in her mouth, and then gestured imperiously at Noam’s empty place setting.
That could mean just about anything. Noam took it to mean “go get us both some food that isn’t rolls so Hera stops throwing things,” and went to do the same.
He tried to simultaneously hurry and get things he could remember Brenna liking. Fish, she liked fish. She almost never ate red meat, but she ate a lot of seafood and a lot of salads. There was a spinach salad today, that ought to be good. And some sort of stuffed fish thing. Check and check.
When he got within line of sight of the table, Brenna and Hera were glaring at each other. “No.”
He had never heard Brenna say no. He’d never heard her say anything that firmly.
“I got him for you, didn’t I?”
He slowed down, hoping they wouldn’t notice him just yet.
“For me. He’s mine now. And I like him.”
“And you’re letting him get away with murder. Just give him to me for an evening, Bren. I’ll knock some sense into him.”
“Hera, I said no!“ Brenna’s voice dropped to a whisper, and, strain his ears as he would, Noam couldn’t pick up her next few sentences. Hera’s glare, however, was getting more and more ominous.
“I think you like that little piece of fluff more than you like me.”
“No… I just like him differently. I like having something that’s mine. You knew that, Hera. That’s why you got him for me, wasn’t it?”
“I got him because you liked him. That’s all. You’d been looking at his pretty face all year.”
“And now he’s mine. And it’s nice. I like having a boy that’s nice to me.” Noam’s heart did a funny little flip. She liked him. Well, of course she did; he was doing everything in his power to get her to like him. Pretty face and all. But it was working. “You just like being mean to him, Hera.”
“I just don’t get why you like him, other than him being yours. I mean, sure. I have a teddy bear I really like, but it’s ugly as sin and not very good conversation. Sure, Noam’s pretty, but…”
“I wish you’d stop calling him stupid. I really do. We can’t all be geniuses like you are.”
It was time to interfere. Brenna got tense and started hiding about two seconds after intelligence came up. It didn’t help that her only friend was a self-proclaimed genius with the manners of a troll.
“I don’t know what this fish thing is, but it looks good.” He made sure his inane declaration was loud enough to be heard a few extra steps away, and flopped down next to his Owner while they were still readjusting themselves to his presence. “Here, I hope you like it.” He passed her the place and then – it had only taken Hera’s scalding complaint once – waited, not even touching his fork, until Brenna picked up hers and took a bite.
“It’s good, thank you, Noam.” The tension started going out of her shoulders the minute she started eating. “Very tasty. You’re good to me.”
Noam’s cheeks heated up, and he ducked his face, although not quickly enough to miss Hera’s glower. “I’m glad you think so.” He really was, and not just because she could be a little scary sometimes.
“Hey, water babies.” The new voice caught him by surprise; from the looks of things, it had caught Brenna and Hera that way too. “Looks like you have a new jellyfish.”
The redhead looking down at them was stunningly gorgeous. Noam had seen her around before, of course; with a school of just over a hundred students, eventually you saw everyone. But he’d never seen her this close, this close to unclothed – terrycloth shorts and a cut-off top showing off a lot of well-muscled body and some light scale-like patterns that looked almost like a tattoo. And he’d never seen her looking down at him – and, he was pretty sure, at his Owner and her best friend – like she was contemplating how they’d taste for dinner.
Noam was pretty sure she had a friend with her. She usually did, and he was the one with the wings, so that was probably the shadow cast over the group. That, and the redhead’s smile.
“Thessaly.” Hera’s voice was sharp. “Nice to see you… leaving. Same for you, Lucian.”
“The Dining Hall is neutral space, little guppy. We can linger where we want.” Her hand hovered near Noam’s shoulder, not quite touching it. “And this little fishie looks like he’d like to play with us.”
Us. Play. Noam gulped. No, that sounded lovely on the entry and pretty horrid on the dismount, thanks.
“Back off, Red.” Hera bristled at the pair. “Bother somebody else. We’re not kids anymore.”
“Ah, but he is.” Again, the girl’s hand lingers very near Noam’s shoulder without actually touching it. Everyone above the Ninth Cohort here seemed to know what the silly collar around his neck meant; was there some rule against touching other people’s belongings? Not the time to ask. The answer might be no. “And he’s very pretty. Too pretty for you, don’t you think, Brenna? He deserves to be with a connoisseur like me. With someone who can appreciate his beauty.”
There was a limit to how much Noam really wanted to be appreciated, and he was pretty sure these two – her, at least, the looming shadow had yet to say a word – weren’t going to praise his trap-dodging skills any more than Hera was. How was he going to talk Brenna into not doing this?
For once, he didn’t have to do anything. Thessaly opened her mouth to say something else, some new taunt, and Brenna stood up, both hands on Noam’s shoulder, leaning protectively over him. He couldn’t see her, nothing but her hands, pressing into his shoulders. Something told him not to take his eyes off Thessaly and her friend, not for a moment.
“Hera’s right.” There was something in her voice he’d never heard before: fight. Her hands were clenching his shoulders very tightly; he was pretty sure she was nervous. But, good girl, it didn’t show in her voice. “We’re not kids anymore. And I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, Tess, but I’m sure Lucian hasn’t.” Her voice should have sounded melodramatic. Somehow it didn’t. “I bite.”
“Tess…” Now the shadow spoke, and he didn’t sound happy. “Tess, leave it.”
Thessaly glared angrily at the three of them. “For now. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be back.”
Brenna waited until they were gone to sag into his arms, and Noam waited until they’d left to hold her. “Atta girl,” he whispered, and screw how much Hera wanted to glare at him over it.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
“Plans tonight, guys?” Shang dropped his tray on the table and looked around at their “Free-Range Guys” group. They’d lost Quintus again, but Kyle had an idea where he was at least. In trade-off, Wylie had slipped away from Niassa for dinner.
“Arcade.” Lee wiggled his fingers. “Unless you want a LAN party.”
“I could do that.” Shang looked, the way he normally did, relieved that someone was acting normal.
“Sounds good to me. After classes this week….”
In a moment of accidental sadism, the Director chose that moment to clear her throat, interrupting their little bubble of pretend-normalcy. “Good evening, Students. It is my pleasure to announce the first of our challenges for the year.”
Challenge. Kyle leaned forward in his seat. This could be good.
“The prize given to the winners of this challenge will be, as always, a field trip. This trip will be to the Sunny Pines campsite, a property owned by the Addergoole School.”
Camping. Even better. Sunny Pines was an awesome place, too. Now, the question was…
“This year, the first challenge will pit crew against crew. The crew with the best grade point average over the next six weeks will win the field trip; there will be no second-place prize.”
Kyle flopped back against his chair. Well, unless he gave in to someone with a crew in the next six weeks, he was out of the running for this one.
“Kyle.” He hadn’t seen Eirena coming, but her hand was on his chest. “Plans for tonight?”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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