Graduation Day, 2001
It was over.
All the older students were in graduation right at that moment, so even if any of his crew still Belonged to any of them, it wouldn’t have been for much longer. The back of Leofric’s neck itched, his hair falling back against it where he hadn’t been able to feel it for… since the school year started. His eyes itched, too, in a weird feeling like he wanted to cry, or had been crying, but he couldn’t imagine why. They were free! They could leave.
Somehow he didn’t feel like packing up to leave yet, though, and besides, all his stuff was already packed up from–
He didn’t feel like getting ready to leave yet, though, and all his stuff was packed up already anyway, so he was wandering through the halls, seeing how long it would take before he’d get lost.
Out of nowhere, a small dark-haired cannonball flung itself at him, which he caught with alarm that quickly turned to a laugh. It was Zita; of course it was Zita, no one else did that jump-and-tackle hug like she did.
“Pet me,” Zita demanded, her arms wrapped tightly around him, so he obliged, freeing one hand from the hug to pat her on the head.
“Good to see you too.” Even before her Change, Zita had been tiny, but this was the first time he’d had a chance to realize just how small she was. He could carry her easily. He was carrying her easily. “I hear the seniors are graduating.”
“Mmhm. I’ll miss them. Some of them. Probably.”
“You can go visit them later,” he suggested, thinking of being helpful, but it sounded more doubtful when it actually came out.
Zita made a face and detached herself from the hug, leaning back against the nearest wall. “Not today’s problem, anyway.”
“Yeah?” The obvious implication that there was a problem set all Leofric’s nerves and instincts on immediate red alert. “What’s up? Do I need to go punch someone for you?”
“I should learn to do my own punching,” Zita mused. “Which, again, not today’s problem….”
“Zita, come on.” Leofric poked her in the shoulder, because it was either that or start shouting and while shouting was all well and good at other people, shouting at his crew – especially at Zita or Cya – they just didn’t need that, none of them did. “Spit it out.”
She folded in on herself, crossing her arms in something that was either defensive or reassuring herself. Or maybe both.
“Doctor Caitrin says,” she informed him, “I should think about finding a Keeper. For medical reasons.”
“What?” He stared at her, the words running through his head repeatedly as he tried to make sense of them, tried to hold himself under control enough not to start electrifying everything. “For what?!”
“Medical reasons,” Zita repeated. “To stabilize my mood, or something.” She flashed him a grin, for a brief moment all big eyes and sharp teeth. “Or maybe just to keep me from biting people.”
“Like hell am I letting anyone else Keep you.” Leofric’s voice came out an angry growl. A sharp stab of pain made him realize he was clenching his hands, hard enough that he might’ve broken skin, and he focused on that, on relaxing his fingers out. “…Not after this year.”
“Yeah, well.” She shrugged, a bitter tone leaking into her voice. “I think it’s this school’s version of optional.”
Not going to let anyone else Keep you ran through his mind again and he considered the words, the sound of it, the way it played into the plot and his character, and stretched out his fingers before shoving both hands into his pockets.
Zita had to have a Keeper. He had to have someone to protect.
“Well,” he tried, feeling out the scene, “I’m not going to let anyone else Keep you. So I’ll do it.”
“Oh! Okay!” Her expression lit up, like there hadn’t been any problem to begin with, and then there hadn’t been and he grinned back.
“You’ll still get to bite people that way. And no one can blame me for punching them over messing with you.”
Zita nodded enthusiastically and held out a hand. “Deal.”
“Deal,” he agreed, shaking her hand. “When’s the deadline? I want to do this right, not this lazy hey, say you’re mine bullshit.”
“I’m supposed to have a name for her before we leave, or sooner. She said it’d be wise to arrange to spend part of the summer with…” She waved a hand, seeming to encompass a whole story arc in a single gesture.
“Then let’s go tell her now.” He held out a hand again, this time for her to take, and they headed down the hall together.