December 16, 2012 by Lyn
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
“What are you getting Bren for Christmas?”
Hera sidled closer to Noam, far closer than he was comfortable having her. She’d scooted into Brenna’s chair the minute her friend had slipped over to the dessert table, and now she was whispering in Noam’s ear.
And he didn’t know.
“Um?” Damnit, there he was sounding like a moron again. Oh, yeah, there was a solution here. “You know her better than I do.” Flattery. Flattery might get him somewhere. “What would you suggest?”
“Heh. Figured you wouldn’t have anything. Jewelry might make her happy. Not a necklace, obviously. You’re good at Unutu, make her something, she’d like that a lot. Or books. Girl likes books like nobody’s business.”
“What are you getting her?”
“Leather bound Jules Verne set. I had the Store special-order them.”
“That… that’s kind of brilliant.” He didn’t really want to admit it, considering the way it just made her smirk broadly and act like she was going to crow. But it was.
“Thanks.” She wiggled her butt in the chair a little. “Maybe she’ll get me a boy for Christmas.”
“There aren’t many left free-range.” He didn’t even feel comfortable saying that much. He didn’t want to be the guy that pointed out a target to Hera.
“Yeah, but it’s not like I have any other options. What am I going to do, walk up to someone and ask them if they want to date me?”
He was surprised by the bitterness in his adversary’s voice. “Well, why not?”
“Ha. Look, this is Addergoole, land of the pretty people – and a couple little creepy monsters. And Lolly at least gets to be a pretty creepy monster, and even she’s only Kept so she doesn’t eat anyone.”
Noam was treading on really, really thin ice here. He needed to roll a natural twenty, or he was dragon… fish-monster meat.
“Someone – Brenna said – someone Kept you, your first year here.” Brenna hadn’t exactly said that, but it had certainly been suggested. “Somebody wanted you.”
It wasn’t the wrong thing to say, but it wasn’t the perfect thing, either. Hera shrugged at him, although it looked more like she was trying to roll in on herself. “Yeah. Everyone wants a newbie. That’s different, and I don’t want to be collared again, anyway.”
He risked teasing her. “Even to keep you from eating people?”
“Ha. I’m not the one you have to worry about eating people, butterfly boy. Look, fact of the matter is, until we get some nice new boy who’s just smart enough to be too smart for his own good, I’m sort of out of luck.”
“…have you met Shang?”
He managed, this time, to get a full-fledged laugh out of her. “Oh, ah..hah..” she grinned at him, with teeth that looked a little less intimidating Masked – except when he remembered what they looked like behind the illusion. “Ha. No, that’s not a fight I’m going to get into, thanks. He wants to believe this place is all a lie, let him.”
“So. Not Shang. Obviously not me. But Hera.” He had to ask. “It took you like nothing at all to catch me. Yeah, yeah, ‘The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded,’ and I know you think I’m stupid. But compared to you, Hera, most people here are stupid.”
“Well, most people everywhere are stupid. It’s just genetics.” She shrugged, unimpressed with herself for once. Noam thought he’d have to spell it out further, brilliant Halfling or not, but she turned and looked up at him with the strangest expression he’d ever seen on her face. “You want to know why I don’t just grab myself a birthday present.”
“Well, yeah. If you’re lonely, and you seem like you are, a little…” Careful, Noam. This is a shaky bridge and there’s a Balrog down there.
“Well, I mean. It’s one thing to get someone for someone else. I mean, I didn’t have to deal with your tantrums.”
“I didn’t really throw any tantrums.” He should know better than to defend himself against Hera. But this time, she just looked surprised. What was taking Brenna so long, anyway?
“Why not? I mean, I threw lots of fits, when I was Kept.”
“I’m not surprised.” And that wasn’t a bridge, that was a tight-rope, but he was dancing over it like he had levels in this. “But I like Brenna.”
“Because of the Keeping bond, you mean.”
“No, I mean, I liked her before you grabbed me.”
“Hunh. Why didn’t you…”
“Shy.” He shrugged back at her; he didn’t want to talk about the whole thing. “Look, you could, you know.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like the guy I want is a newbie or anything.”
“Well, it can’t be that hard.”
“Look. Maybe I just want… I dunno. Someone who likes me without the Keeping bond?”
“Oh.” He bit into his apple. The Balrog was screaming at the bottom of the pit, and the bridge was shaking. “Well… why don’t you try talking to people?”
The bridge trembled. Hera frowned. “You’re just trying to get rid of me.”
“I couldn’t if I wanted to. But when you’re not happy, Brenna’s not happy, and when Brenna’s not happy…”
“You don’t get to be happy either. Yeah. Look, I’ll think about it. And you figure out something nice for her for Christmas. Here she comes.”
Noam found a smile he didn’t have to fake, and stood to hold his Keeper’s chair. She blushed, a pretty blue-green color that he found he liked quite a bit. “You two looked like you were actually talking.”
“Somewhere, it’s snowing in Hades.” Noam had been reading to make the joke, but Hera beat him to it. He glanced over at the small woman. For Christmas, he decided, he was going to get her a date. Or maybe a Kept.
Friday, December 12, 2003
Hera had been right; most of the Ninth Cohort was taken. The ones that were left – Shang, Xanthia, Jovanna – weren’t Hera’s type, either from being girls or being clueless. (Noam wasn’t entirely certain Hera wasn’t into girls, but if she was, she was into Brenna and that was it).
Some of the Eighth Cohort was wandering around in collars, too – Naberius, and Hera’s sister – so there wasn’t any law that said the Kept had to be just the youngest year. Clearly, since Ciara had managed to put a collar on her stalker.
Noam admired her that. She was the smallest paladin he’d ever seen, but she was fierce. He wouldn’t have been able to do that. Especially not with Brenna. He wouldn’t have been able to hit Bren at all.
Well, maybe to make Hera happy, to make Brenna happy, he could hit someone over the head, but he was thinking he’d have to come up with something more clever, more back-stabby. Now, how was he going to back-stab someone into getting Kept?
Sneaking up, he could do. He’d actually gotten a lot better at sneaking up on people (and hiding from people in plain sight) since his Change. Like his powers had tried to apologize for turning him into a butterfly.
His Words helped with that, too; he could shape the air or his target’s mind to keep them from hearing him, if he really needed to. But he couldn’t do what Hera had, just control someone’s mind into being Kept. Even if he could Keep someone, which he’d been told, more than once, that he couldn’t.
So he needed to trick them into a promise. Well, he needed to pick someone he thought Hera would like, and then trick them into a promise.
“Are you gay?”
“What?” He blinked at Brenna. He hadn’t been expecting that. He hadn’t even heard her coming, which was unusual.
“Are you turning gay? I know I’m not that pretty…”
“You’re beautiful, and no.” He said it firmly. More firmly than one should be, maybe, with one’s Keeper, but he knew what he had to do to convince her.
“You’ve been looking at guys all week.”
“Oh.” He felt his cheeks heating up. “Well, Hera…” A quick look told him that the Halfling hadn’t made it into the lunchroom yet. “She said she was lonely. So I thought I’d find her a Christmas present.”
“A… oh! Like she got me a birthday present.” Brenna’s hand rested possessively on Noam’s arm. He’d found he really liked the sensation, so he leaned into it. That generally encouraged her to touch him more. “So who are you looking at? I saw you peeking at Abbadon earlier.”
“I don’t think I could take him. And he’s a bit too pretty for Hera, I think.”
“He is pretty.” That, Noam found, he didn’t like at all. “Hrrm, Silas?”
“You can’t be Kept if you have a Kept, right?”
“Oh, that’s right. Hrrmf. How about Jabez?”
“Well, he’s short en… hi, Hera.”
“Hey, what are you two doing?” The Halfling sat down with a thump.
Noam gave her his brightest dumb-and-pretty smile. “Looking at boys.”
“Hunh. Well, whatever rocks your boat. Look out for the ones with fangs, though.”
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