Chapter 15 – Jamian
Inside my present, so... so much past

He’d borrowed, at Ty’s insistence, one of Ty’s suits, an outfit that fit him nearly perfectly, far more sleekly than anything he owned, and probably twice as expensive as his entire wardrobe. But, with the jacket buttoned over a shirt that somehow matched without matching the dress Ty was wearing, Jamian somehow felt more secure, more put-together, more… manly, even with Ty finger-combing his hair to lie properly around the new horns.

Walking into the Main Hall with Ty’s hand lightly on his arm was both exhilarating and terrifying, his heart pounding and his mouth dry, so entirely distracting that he was halfway into the room before he noticed how it had been changed.

This – a dance, the music, this pretty date smiling at him – was how he’d thought it ought to be in high school, if he’d had the balls to ask someone and risk ridicule.

Balls aren’t the problem, a snarky little voice in the back of his head teased, and he bit his lip. Yeah. Here he was, at a dance with a sexy girl who, this morning, had been a boy (and everyone knew it), he and his date together had enough genitalia for two couples, and he had a tail and horns which, Ty said, somehow made him “special” and thus more noticeable. This hadn’t been quite how he’d imagined this happening, back in high school.

But Ty was pretty, and her hand on his arm was warm and nice, and he was finding with her there, he cared a little bit less about being stared at.

“Tya!” The girl bearing down on them was taller than either of them, wearing heels that made her even taller, her dress off her shoulders and down to her knees, in purple matching the streak in her black, curly hair. Her skin was beautifully golden-brown, with light leopard spots, larger and darker on her legs, delicate and almost invisible on her face. This had to be Magnolia, Jamian realized, who Ty had said, a thousand years ago (yesterday) had her eye on him. “Tya, you look yummy,” she smiled down at them, “but I thought you were going to be a boy this year?” Was it his imagination, or did she sound a little disappointed? “And you must be Jamian, yes?” She held out her hand – her fingernails were purple, too – and, a little nervously, he shook it. “I’m Magnolia.”

“Pleased to meet you,” he stammered.

“And he’s sweet, too! Tya, where have you been hiding him?”

“In his bedroom,” Ty – Tya? – said with a suggestive smile and a little wiggle of her hips that made Jamian blush even more.

“Oooh, is that how it is?” Magnolia smiled at Jamian again. “Watch out,” she said, teasing – he hoped she was teasing –“she bites. But I’m sure you know that already.”

He ducked his head, hoping his embarrassment didn’t show on his face. He didn’t want to let Ty down.

“Ooh, Tya,” Magnolia teased, “you naughty girl. Well, at least you’ve let him come out to play now.”

This finally got under Jamian’s skin enough. Teasing Tya – well, maybe the two girls did that sort of thing. But now she was poking at him, too.

“Nobody ‘let me out to play,’” he frowned at the leopard-skinned girl, noticing despite himself that she had tattooed one of her spots, just at the curve of her breast, the same purple as the streak in her hair. It was, possibly intentionally, in the shape of South America.

He wrenched his eyes back up to her face. “I’m not a child, or a pet,” he said, some of the heat of his irritation gone. “I go where I want to.”

“As much as any of us do,” she said, looking amused rather than chagrined. “My apologies, Jamian. I’m glad you’ve decided to come out to play with us.”

He wanted to still be annoyed, but couldn’t really bring up any real offense. “Well… thank you,” he said lamely, and turned back to Tya, to find that she had a brittle, unhappy expression on. What had he done this time? Then her smile lit up, and she kissed his cheek, just so lightly, and smiled at Magnolia, a smile with knives in it.

“Well, we can’t monopolize him all night, can we? Come on, Mags, let’s introduce him to the rest of the crew.”

Magnolia, smiling just as broadly, took Jamian’s other arm, resting her hand lightly on the bend of his elbow. “Yes, let’s.”

It was a heady and weird feeling, walking through the dimly-lit, club-like Hall with a pretty girl on each arm, dimmed only by the tension between the two, and by his niggling suspicion that this was all too be good to be true.

It was, of course. Tya’s interest in him was mostly to do with their shared freakiness, where Magnolia… he didn’t know what her interest was, but he was sure her plans would fizzle flat if she ever found out what he was hiding under his borrowed suit.

All that in mind, Tya’s presence next to him was still comforting, if strange, in the midst of a crowd of mostly strangers that kept turning to look at him, some of them – all of them earlier Cohorts, from the looks of the scales and antennae and Crayola-colored-and-spiked hair – even pointing. He felt horribly exposed, and pulled both girls closer. “Am I really that weird?” he murmured to Tya, softly enough, he thought, to not be heard by anyone else.

“Not weird,” she murmured back, squeezing his arm reassuringly. “Just special. And most down here haven’t seen a full-blooded Daeva other than Professor VanderLinden.”

“A full-blooded anything other than the three,” Magnolia pointed out. “From what they were teaching in History, a full-blood as young as you is pretty rare. I guess it’s working.”

“What’s working?” Jamian asked, not missing the warning look Tya was shooting at Magnolia. Neither did the leopard-girl miss it, it seemed; she giggled softly, a ditzy little sound not in keeping with the way she’d been acting.

“Oops, I guess I started pre-partying too soon, not minding my words. Don’t mind me.”

Jamian frowned; did she really think he was that stupid? “What’s wor…” that spot on her shoulder, just next to her dress strap, was shaped like a cat. “You have lovely spots.”

“Thank you, honey.” She smiled benevolently at him. Did the spots go all the way down? He glanced guiltily at Tya to see if his thoughts were written on his face; from her angry little frown, it seemed as if they were. He smiled nervously at her.

“Oh, Jame,” she sighed, “you are such a boy sometimes.”

“Thank you,” he grinned, liking that it was their own private joke, liking more the way her smile blossomed again.

“Here we are,” Magnolia announced; in a three-sided niche made by the junction of a couple haphazardly-placed walls, where a small gathering of people leaned against the walls. From the looks of them, all of them were older students – or, he supposed, like him, new students who had recently changed.

The focus of the group was a tall, slender girl in a sleek black dress, with gray tabby-cat ears peeking from straight auburn hair; she leaned lazily against the wall, her left arm draped over the shoulders of a boy with grape leaves wound through his curly black hair and sharply-pointed ears hung with dozens of silver rings, her right hand tousling the hair of a slouching, trenchcoat-wearing boy of which little else was visible; his hands were in his pockets and his hair in his face, but what little was visible of his eyes was void, without pupil or iris..

To his left was the most stunning redheaded girl Jamian had ever seen, beautiful, absolutely perfect, from the two tiny little horns curling out of her brilliant red hair to the stunning, delicate-looking, iridescent green bat wings fluttering lightly behind her, to the artistic curves of her body…

“Why, hello.” The cat-eared girl at the center of the room drew his attention away from the redhead, her voice carrying smoothly over the music without shouting. “Tya, beautiful.” She disentangled an arm from Trenchcoat and held it out to Tya, who slipped her hand away from Jamian and hugged the girl. “I love you like this,” she murmured into Tya’s neck.

Disturbed by the way the emptiness where Tya had been bothered him, and trying to ignore Magnolia hanging on his other arm, Jamian continued looking around the small group of people. To the redhead’s left was a boy who looked human, and young, smooth-faced and puckish. He saw Jamian looking at him, and stuck out a long, forked tongue.

Startled, Jamian looked back to Tya, who had stepped back from the cat-eared girl. “Shiva,” she said – or was it Sheba? – “Good to see you, dear. This is Jamian, I don’t think you’ve met him.” She held an arm out to Jamian, and, a little resentful at being called like a dog, a little grateful to be able to disentangle from Magnolia, he walked over to her, leaning into his arm. “Jame, this is Shiva. She and I used to… date, a couple years back. And this – “she paused again, looking at Shiva-Sheba with a look Jamian couldn’t quite translate, and nodded at the boy with the grape leaves in his hair. “This is Nikita.” Her voice cracked a little bit, just the tiniest bit, but Jamian could see that Shiva noticed it too. Nevertheless, she mustered a bright smile, as the boy looked up at her slowly. His expression seemed to say volumes, in some code that Jamian hadn’t been taught yet; it seemed to be equal parts longing and smug satisfaction. “Hey, Nick.”

“Hey, Tya,” he drawled. “Haven’t seen you much this year.” His eyes trailed over to Jamian. “Been busy?”

“Niki, be nice,” Shiva scolded softly, and the boy flushed, but it only seemed to upset Tya more. She shook her head, looking between the two of them. “I’m sorry, I need a breath of fresh air.” She turned to Jamian. “I’ll be right back, I promise,” she said, her voice low and earnest. “Okay?”

“Uh…” What’s upsetting you? Let me hurt it, let me make it go away. But none of that came out, and he was left stammering as she grabbed his cheeks and kissed him lightly on the lips, and fled.

“Shit,” murmured Shiva, and Jamian could do nothing but agree.

Chapter 15.5 – Jamian
Feeling good was good enough for me...

"Shit," Shiva swore, as Ty vanished into the crowd and the throbbing lights. She shot a frown at Nick; he just shrugged defiantly. Her frown deepening, she pushed off of the wall, away from Nick – and from Trenchcoat, who took the opportunity to glare at Nick behind Shiva's back. "I'll go get her."

That galvanized Jamian, who had bemusedly been trying to figure out what was going on, into action. "No." He shook his head, "I will. She came with me." She'd come to take care of him, but he didn't want to admit that.

Shiva shook her head. "I know her better," she said, challenge in her posture.

He didn't argue the point; instead, he just said, as gently as his rising agitation – why were they still arguing? – would allow, "But it was your... boyfriend –" as good a term as any – "that upset her in the first place."

That earned him a glare from Nick, and a flinch from Shiva. "To be fair," she said quietly, "it was mostly that he used to be her boyfriend that upset her." She looked up at Jamian, wearing a coy smirk, clearly trying to gauge his response, and he wondered what he was supposed to say to that. Did she expect him to flip out over that? To run screaming? There was nowhere to run, anyway.

"So Ty's ex... former girlfriend is dating his, ah, her former boyfriend," he said flatly, and was rewarded with a slightly apprehensive, startled look from Shiva. "Right. Anything else?" He wondered when gay had stopped being a concern.

Probably when hermaphrodite became the least strange thing about me But Shiva was shaking her head no. No? That's right, no, all he had to deal with was his... was Ty's ex-girlfriend and ex-boyfriend. "Right. I'm going after her." What else was he going to do?

Shiva sighed deeply, and nodded acquiescence. "I'll show you where."

"One nice thing about Ty," she added, as she led Jamian out of the Hall, "is that he's so delightfully predicable in his unpredictability."

One nice thing. "How did you two break up?" It wasn't the question he wanted to ask, but it was the one he was brave enough to ask.

"Amicably," she answered succinctly, grinning at him. "But that wasn't what you meant, was it?"

"Uh... no," he hesitated, his mind racing, "I mean... why?"

"Not something you should be asking me," she answered easily; "ask Ty."

"And... Tya," he guessed, "and Nikita?"

Her grin grew, and she shook her head at him. "Definitely not my tale to tell. But Nikki will tell you, if you ask." She twisted her hand near the wall, as if turning some sort of dial, and mimed tugging. A section of the wood-paneled wall swung towards them, revealing a cement stairwell.

Shaking his head - I have a tail. What's a secret door next to the catgirl opening it? - he followed her into the stairwell, and didn't even jump when the door swung shut behind them.

The stairs only went downwards, and the whole section had a different feel to it, backstage and behind-the-scenes. While the school halls were wide, thickly carpeted and richly paneled, lit with hidden lighting that seemed like filtered sunlight, this area was cold, cast concrete with steel banisters, lit with fluorescent lighting.

"Access hallway," Shiva correctly interpreted his expression. "Quicker ways to get just about everywhere, and usually pretty isolated." She padded down the stairs, her feet making no sound on the concrete – only then did he notice that she was barefoot, despite the fine dress – and Jamian followed, feeling as if he had stepped off of one movie set and into another.

And around the last turn of the stairs, onto a third set, the stairs opening onto a wide expanse of green jungle-like greenery, a small waterfall visible in the distance. He stopped, startled again despite himself, and only then noticed Tya, sitting on the stairs, staring out at the water.

"Hi, Shiva," she said without turning, her voice sounding sad and a little tired. Shiva didn't answer, except to clear her throat, and Tya turned, frowning at first and then clearly startled. "Jame!" She jumped to her feet, turning to face him, and caught her heel on the stairs. She stumbled, and Jamian lunged forward to catch her, noticing as he did so that Shiva did the same thing, tripping himself as Tya caught herself, holding onto the railing for support.

He managed to right himself, blushing, but Tya was blushing too, looking down at her feet, her shoulders slouched forward. "I'm sorry, Jame," she said softly. "I shouldn't have just run off like that. It just, it took me by surprise, I guess." She glanced briefly at Shiva.

"I'm sorry, Tya-mia" Shiva said contritely. "I was going to tell you, but we just decided after the party last night, and I couldn't find you anywhere." Her expression suggested she knew exactly where Tya had been, but somehow Jamian wasn't embarrassed at all.

"It's all right." Tya shrugged. "I wish he'd just get over himself."

"Give him time," Shiva soothed. "I know it's been a while," she added hurriedly, "but it hasn't been that long." She glanced over at Jamian, clearly wondering how much she could say around him. Not feeling particularly charitable towards Ty's exes right now, he did his best to look lost and confused.

Not that that's too hard right now...

"You didn't have a problem with it. I mean, not like a year-long tantrum." It? What was it Nikki was still pissy about, anyway?

Shiva chuckled dryly. "I started out bisexual, remember? I had less far to go."

Jamian blinked. "He had a problem with your junk?" he asked, startled. "What the hell!"

Tya looked at him, startled into a laugh. She began to say something, and then just giggled again, a little snorted noise that turned into a full-fledged guffaw.

Holy shit, I did just say that. What was this place doing to him? He shook his head, chuckling a little at himself. Junk.

Shiva looked between the two of them, and the look on her face only made him laugh harder, which only made Tya laugh harder, and, eventually all three of them were giggling, laughing until tears ran.

"Yeah," Tya said, finally, sobering. "He had a problem with my junk." She shrugs. "I wasn't that straight-forward about it, I guess, and it took him by surprise."

"Oh." Jamian frowned a little. "I can imagine." He had imagined, time after time, what that would be like, the look on some would-be-lover's face when she saw he wasn't exactly as advertised. "That's got to be harsh." He offered her his hand, and summoned up his best grin for her. "I've seen the switchblade schematics already."

She smiled at him, and took his hand. "I know you have. And that's only one cool thing about you. Shall we go pretend nothing ever happened?"

He glanced at Shiva, who seemed to be less happy about this than he'd expect. She saw him looking at her, and turned on a smile like a light switch. "Ooh, I love make-believe," she teased. "Can I play too?"

"You're always welcome to play with me, Shiva honey," Tya purred, and Jamian found himself blushing all over again at the way they looked at each other – and wondering, yet again, what had come between them, and how deep the rift clearly wasn't.

And why Ty would want him when there was this lovely girl who was more tolerant and sweeter than he'd ever be here looking at her like that.

He shook his head. It was his hand Tya was holding. Focus on that. Pretty girl. Pretty switchblade hermaphrodite holding his hand. "I can pretend nothing happened," he found himself brave enough to say, "but wouldn't it be more fun to pretend lots of something happened?"

Tya laughed, startled again. "Really?" She studied Jamian's face, and nodded. "Yeah... I like that idea. Thanks, Jame."

"Any time," he said, feeling a stupid grin stretch across his face. There was something intoxicating about making Ty happy. He found himself wanting to keep doing things that made that smile light up.

Like that, smiling, hand in hand, Shiva trailing alongside them, they went back to the dance, back to Ty's waiting crew, Nick who frowned sulkily at Shiva and nastily at Jamian and Tya's joined hands, the redhead who smiled brightly at him, her date who didn't seem to mind, Magnolia who studied them for a moment and then turned to look somewhere else as if no longer interested.

Even with Magnolia no longer looking at him like a piece of meat, there was a tension in the little niche that made Jamian's skin tingle unhappily, so he mustered up a bright smile and asked Tya to dance with him. That song, a slow mellow one that let him hold her close, segued into another one, and another, upbeat songs and romantic ones and a couple downright angry songs, and they kept dancing. Everyone around them was dancing, throwing their whole selves into the dance. No-one seemed to care what anyone else thought of them, except, perhaps, their own dance partner, and the sensation was contagious. Jamian found himself less and less concerned with how he looked, less worried about what people might think, and more and more happy with the person in his arms.

The night came to a close with lazy, slow songs, only a few couples left on the floor, Tya's arms around his waist and her head nestled on his shoulder. Her hair smelled of lavender and, ever so faintly, of the saddles-and-leather-oil scent he associated with Ty. Her body was an unfamiliar warmth against his that somehow seemed right and proper, and her hair shone gold in the dim club lights.

"Stay with me forever," she purred sleepily. It seemed like a wonderful idea, and he mm-hrmmed in agreement. "Say you'll be mine forever."

"Forever." The one person in the world that would never be repulsed or creeped out. "Yeah." He pulled her a little closer, relishing the feeling of being wanted as much as he savored her snuggly softness against him. "Yeah. I'll be yours. Since you seem to like me."

"Forever?" Her gunmetal-and-stormcloud eyes looked up at him needily.



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