Outside Regine’s door, Ambrus struggled to keep his legs from shaking. Not here, please, not here. He nodded politely to Solomon, who was eyeing him considerately.
“You should come by my apartment sometime tomorrow, Ambrus,” he said lightly, though he was making eye contact with surprising firmness and intent, “I have a couple books I think you’d like.”
His apartment. Where there were no cameras. He made an effort not to gulp, and nodded. “I’ll do that. Thank you, Doctor.”
“Don’t mention it.” It was almost written on his forehead: Seriously. Don’t mention it. Ambrus nodded again, and focused on walking naturally down the hallway towards the dormitories.
Of course, which hall in the dorms was a question. When Regine had asked him where he was going, he’d nearly choked on the answer that had come to his lips without thought: Manira’s room.
That wasn’t what he wanted to tell his Lady. When he’d starting pursuing Manira, the thought of getting a reaction out of Regine, any reaction, had seemed titillating and fun. What was the worst she could do, after all?
Now that he was faced with the very real possibility of her wrath, he found it hard to stand, much less walk. Regine had never beaten him. She’d never needed to. And in the two decades he’d served her, he’d tested her limits only a handful of times, and never before outright defied her.
Shit. And as he panicked over it, his feet had taken him into the dorms, nearly to Manira’s door already.
The cameras were always on. Regine might have already seen him going to Manira’s room, the night of the dance, or yesterday. Might have seen him taking her outside, to lay on a blanket in the moonlight. Might have seen that goodnight kiss, so very innocent.
If so, he was already screwed, and he might as well just knock on her door. But if not, then every time he went to her, he skewed the odds further against him.
He’d almost knocked on the door before he caught himself. Today, especially, after having been questioned on the way out the door, he should go where he was supposed to, like a good, obedient slave.
A comfortable, well-fed, safe, and pampered house-cat slave, he reminded himself, as long as he did as he was expected to do. He walked away from Manira’s door, surprised at how difficult it was to do so, and headed for Shahin’s room.
There weren’t many people down here – most of the mischief had migrated to the classroom floor, and the students down here had stayed safe in their rooms. He didn’t know what had possessed him to come out looking for either of them on the tail end of Hell Night.
And what if they’d gotten caught? Manira was an innocent little thing, and the tricks people used on Hell Night, while amateur, had been enough to catch girls more savvy than her.
Shahin. Shahin with the pearly-white skin, who he’d found so appealing when he first saw her. He gritted his teeth and forced himself not go off trying to rescue Manira from her supposed attackers.
He could, of course, rescue Shahin instead. Not that he was the rescuing sort, but it might be fun for once. He kept walking past her door, heading towards the stairs, rounded the corner in the near-dark, and nearly collided with Shahin’s handsome blonde friend.
“Pardon me,” the boy said, cool as cucumber. Ambrus began to wonder if any of the Fifth Cohort talked like normal teenagers.
Like you’d know what a normal teenager talked like. He bowed, responding to the tone without meaning to, resisting the urge to lick his lips and suddenly very, very aware of the collar resting on his clavicle. “I beg your pardon,” he replied, rising from the bow with something nearly-but-not-quite a flourish and coming face to face with Emrys.
Fuck. The kid was smirking at him, nearly laughing. And, her delicate little gloved hand on Emrys’ ridiculous biker jacket as if they were out for a Sunday stroll, Shahin was studying him like some curiosity.
“You’re the Director’s ... assistant, right?”
Assistant. Of course, she didn't mean anything by the pause, she was just unsure... right. He could keep telling himself that for another decade, if he wanted. He bowed again, albeit not as deeply. “Yes. Ambrus.” He offered her his hand, and was amused but not surprised to see her offer the back of her hand to him, fingertips delicately drooping.
He bowed again, this time over her hand, bringing it just to his lips. She had almost no scent, just the faintest suggestion of a winter breeze. He wondered what she tasted like.
Emrys’ smile was more pleased than he expected, and, as he straightened and met the girl’s eyes, he tasted the boy’s emotions. Pride, albeit with a slightly nervous undertone: Look what I’ve got… oh, geez, what do I really have and how do I hold onto it? Ambrus’ heart slowly sank, though his smile remained friendly and engaging
“Shahin,” she answered lightly. “My friends, Yngvi, Aelgifu… and Emrys.”
“We’ve met,” Emrys replied, but far more civilly than Ambrus expected. He slipped an arm around Shahin’s waist, almost subtly, smiling. Ambrus could taste the zinger in the air, was braced for it, hoping he could control his reaction better this time, but Shahin, oblivious, spoke over whatever salvo Emrys would have launched.
“What brings you down – up, I suppose – into our deep, dark, dank, depths?” she asked, just enough wryness in her voice that he was pretty sure she was making fun of herself.
A good question. He was pretty sure the truth wasn’t going to do anything except possibly get him beaten up – and from the feel of things, it might not be Emrys throwing the punches. He wondered if a lie would be any safer.
He settled on good-little-assistant. “I’m just making sure everything is all right up here,” he said, with an innocent smile and a silent prayer that Emrys didn’t call him on his bullshit. “And I thought I could offer my services-” he made it through the sentence with a straight face only by focusing on the hollow of her delicate throat “-to anyone who might want a guided tour of some of the less-known locations within the school.”
Beautiful bullshit, a genuine offer, or a nicely discreet way of suggesting he take her off into some secluded corner and give her a tour of his own less-known locations? He wasn’t even sure himself, and, from the politely doubtful look on her face, neither was she.
“That would be nice. We’d like that, wouldn’t we, Vi?”
Ambrus took solace in the fact that everyone else in the group was looking at Shahin’s blonde friend – Aelgifu? Ah, one of Aelfgar’s, with his typical subtlety – and they all looked as perplexed as he was.
“We would?” Yngvi asked. Ambrus found it interesting that Emrys, although he was containing it well, was as displeased by this idea as the blonde boy was. For once in your life, we agree on something, kid. Small solace, since it seemed they also agreed on their tastes in women this year.
What was he going to do about that? For the moment, it appeared he was going to take his son’s lead and play nice. He smiled widely at Aelgifu, noting as he did that she and Shahin were both radiating a sort of grim pleasure, in palpable counterpoint to the boys’ irritation. Ah. He, or Yngvi, or both, were being gotten rid of.
As he offered Aelgifu his arm, filing away for later both her careful imitation of Shahin’s mannerisms as she set her hand on his arm and her entire lack of interest in him, he wondered what about being alone with that beautiful girl would make Emrys nervous.
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