Monday, October 2, 2000
Leofric ducked to the side barely in time as Alexander swung at him, almost tripping over his own feet. Cy’ree practice was usually one of his favorite events — after his usual kendo lesson, also with Luke — but today, he just couldn’t focus. There was too much going on, too much to worry about, and first and foremost of those things: something was wrong with Zita. Not just how he could tell she was having to work around orders more and more, but the way she smiled sometimes, all sharp and aggressive, or the time she’d had to be excused because her teeth started falling out (it was part of her Change, the doctor said).
The way she’d looked when she said she thought she was going insane.
And to top it off, either he was going crazy too — too soon for that, he thought, and promises aren’t binding when you’re Kept anyway — or he was starting to think someone was stalking him. Sometimes he could just feel somebody watching him; in the halls, in class, even in the suite, and nobody could get into the suite. That sanctity thing he’d learned about the first week, before… well, back when he’d had his own room.
He blocked another swing and grabbed at Alexander’s arm in an attempt to throw him, but the taller cy’Luca maneuvered away at the last second and—
Leofric caught a glimpse from the corner of his eye of someone watching him, somewhere at the edge of the gym, and glanced to the side — giving Alexander enough of an opening to sweep Leofric’s legs out from under him and send him crashing to the ground.
“You all right?” Alexander offered him a hand back up. “You’re kind of distracted today.”
“Yeah… yeah, I’m okay.” Leofric took the hand and pulled himself back up, brushing himself off and looking back at the side of the gym.
No one. Just like he’d thought he saw, right before he got knocked down.
“If you need to take today off…”
Leofric shook his head vigorously. “No, I’m good. It helps take my mind off things. Let’s go again.”
This time, he focused slightly better; better enough that he didn’t get knocked down again, at least. Duck here, dodge there, counter that one. And whoever he’d thought he saw earlier didn’t show again.
Practice wrapped up after the usual hour and Leofric headed to the locker room, intending to take a quick shower and change. Eriko was particular about his appearance, and even if she never seemed quite happy enough with what he managed, he figured he should still at least try. Not that she noticed the effort, but to be honest, he was glad she noticed any of it.
Halfway there, there was a flicker of something — or someone — at the corner of his eye again, but a glance over showed, yet again, nobody there. He slowed with a sigh and looked around, just in case it might’ve been somebody else, but no. No one was anywhere near. Maybe he was going crazy.
That reminded him, of course, of Zita, which reminded him that he’d wanted to talk to Luke. And if he didn’t do it now, Eriko would show up and take him back to the suite before he had a chance. But if he did do it now, he might not have time to shower…
It wasn’t a tough decision. He angled quickly to Luke’s office, where his Mentor had headed after practice, and knocked.
Luke sat down at his desk, looking up at Leo. “Leo. Something up?”
“I…” Leofric hesitated, shifting his weight on his feet. He should get this over with quickly so he didn’t keep Eriko waiting. “…yes. I have a couple questions, if you aren’t busy.”
“Come on in. Close the door.”
He obeyed, closing it quietly behind him. “It’s about…” Don’t interfere with other people’s business. Asking about Zita was definitely interfering; there was no way he could convince himself otherwise. He felt himself frown as he felt out the edges of the order. “Hypothetically speaking. If someone has a terrible Keeper, is there anything anyone can do?”
Luke frowned. “Well. It depends on the level of terrible. If they’re being tortured, abused, then a teacher should get involved — probably their Mentor.”
Tortured or abused. Leofric’s hands clenched into fists and he forced himself to relax, inhaling, exhaling. Losing his temper would just waste time; besides, this was supposed to be hypothetical. “Does that happen much? …does it happen at all?”
“It has happened.” Luke grimaced. “We do our best to catch it before it happens again.”
Luke looked even unhappier about the conversation than he usually did when it came to Keeping; if people had been literally tortured by their Keepers before, then Leofric was starting to understand why. Leofric wouldn’t just be grumpy, he’d might’ve just burned the place down. Figuratively speaking, at least.
“Is—” He skirted the edge of the order again. It was just out of curiosity, right? He wasn’t trying to change anything or interfere, he was just gathering information. “Are you worried about it happening to… anyone in particular, this year?”
“There’s a few people I have my eye on. Is there anyone you think I ought to be looking at?”
I think you should look at Zita. He tried to say it, pushing everything he could into breaking the order — the opportunity was right there and the only thing stopping him was… still stopping him. If only Eriko would let him help. He wouldn’t get her mixed up in it or in trouble, if she would just…
“No, sir,” he finally answered, and he didn’t even try to make it sound convincing. Maybe Luke already knew about Zita; maybe he was going to fix it. Maybe Leofric had been imagining the whole thing, like the figure in the gym.
Luke had been watching him closely and slowly nodded. “All right. I’ll keep an eye out. Someone that your older cy’ree might have noticed?”
Leofric didn’t think any of them were crew with Zita’s Keeper, but he considered the question anyway. It didn’t get him anywhere, and he shrugged. “You’d have to ask them.”
“I’ll ask them, then. Sometimes they need a reminder to look in pretty obvious places.”
“Is that something we should be doing?” Not that he could right now — although if he made it about a cy’ree project, maybe Eriko would let him do something. Anything.
“It’s something to think of in later years, when you’re not collared.”
“Okay.” Leofric stifled a sigh; of course, that would’ve been too easy, right? He’d done the best he could, unless he could convince Eriko otherwise. “Well, anyway, thanks, I’d better get going.”
“Take care. And thanks for the … question.” With that pause, Luke seemed to have figured out that he did have someone in mind, at least.
Le could take a little bit of comfort in having let him know that much, even if the thought made guilt start gnawing at his stomach again. Eriko would understand, right? He’d explain it to her if it came up, and everything would be okay.
“I’ll let you know if I have any more.”
“Good. Do that. As your Mentor, I’m open to all of your questions.”
Something about the formality Luke’s tone made Leofric stop, one hand already on the doorknob, and look back at his Mentor. Luke was trying to tell him something… But he couldn’t figure out what, and he was already late, so he just gave an equally formal nod.
“Thank you, sir.”
Leaving the door open behind him, Leofric hurried to the locker room. If he showered really fast, he might only keep Eriko waiting for a minute. She’d still be upset — he swallowed down the surge of guilt at that — but maybe only a little, this time…