“Thank you.” Ayla gratefully took the plastic cup from Alexander and held it with both hands, as if it could warm her up. She wasn’t cold, not physically – it was always comfortable down here, so far underground that weather didn’t seem to matter – but she was nervous and a little jittery.
Ioanna had been apologetic about accidentally outing her the other day – and in front of that man who might be her father – but it did little to stop the feeling of a giant target painted on her back. In her dreams, she was proud and unafraid, but those were dreams. The reality was still frightening.
She took a long swig of the drink – it was sweet and citric, almost covering the burn of the alcohol, and looked around, trying to not seem self-conscious of Ioanna’s arm around her waist. By this point, she knew almost everyone’s face (both of them, the human and the monster), but very few of them by name. Ioanna, on the other hand, seemed to know everyone – and thus, everyone was noticing them, Ayla and (wonderful) (purple-eyed) (not-quite-human) girlfriend.
“Anwell, Mags!” Ioanna waved, steering Ayla towards a leopard-spotted girl and her human-looking boyfriend. “Hey, have you guys met Aelgifu? Gi, this is Anwell and Magnolia.”
“Hi,” she murmured, trying not to sound aloof, but something across the room had caught her eye, a long narrow flash of black.
“I-” she began; Ioanna stopped her with a kiss to the cheek.
“Of course,” she said warmly. “I’ll be here.”
Vi would probably scold her if he knew she was doing this, but Vi was on the other side of the common area, talking with the twin elves, and, brother or no, he wasn’t her boss. The risk of getting her feelings hurt again was worth the chance of talking to Sheen. She missed her horribly.
“…but he’s a guy!” Emrys had turned away from Shahin and was talking animatedly with Melchior. The little goblin looked undisturbed by Emrys’ apparent distress and was grinning cheerfully, an expression made grotesque by the memory of the mouthful of teeth he hid under his Mask.
Shahin caught sight of Ayla and smiled warmly. With exaggerated subtlety, she slipped away from Emrys, who continued his discussion with Melchior, not seeming to notice that his girlfriend had wandered off.
“Hey,” Ayla said hesitantly.
“Hey,” Shahin answered. She sounded warm and friendly, but Ayla was still uncertain. She drank a little more of the orange-flavored something Alexander had given her, and thus almost missed the wince pass across Shahin’s face.
“So, um…” She searched for a topic of conversation that wouldn’t feel awkward, that would bridge this gap between them that seemed to grow up. She wanted to just yell at her, why are you doing this stupid Ownership thing with Emrys? Why would you date someone who would take you away from your friends? but a little voice inside her kept pointing out that she had not a whole lot of prior claim; it’s not like Vi and she had known Shahin for years or anything.
“So, Aelfgar?” Shahin broke the silence, a little more bluntly than Ayla was expecting. She grimaced.
“Yeah,” she agreed, “that was… um, something. I keep waiting for someone to jump out of the woodwork and shout ‘ha! Gotcha!’”
“So you don’t really believe him?”
“Well, he didn’t really actually say it, did he?” Ayla frowned. “He sort of hinted around the subject, but he didn’t say anything outright. Well, except that all of his kids are…” she blushed, and let the sentence trail off.
Shahin nodded. “You haven’t talked to him about it?”
“No.” It sounded silly when she thought about it. “We’ve heard him in the halls a couple times – he’s kind of hard to miss – but we always go the other way.”
Shahin nodded, though she looked a little sad. “Do you want to know?”
“I…” Shahin didn’t have a father, either, Ayla remembered. None of them did – but now, it seemed, she and Vi at least had a possibility. “I don’t know. I guess I do.” She bit her lip. “I don’t want to ask him, though. Not after what he…” she sighed softly. “Now everyone knows.”
Shahin hugged her spontaneously. “It’s all right, Ay,” she murmured. “Tell you what.” She rested her hands on Ayla’s shoulders, and looked her in the eye, dead serious and still smiling. “Sunday, we’ll hang out. Maybe go shopping, and if you want, we’ll go talk to Aelfgar and beat him up until he tells us the truth.”
She couldn’t help but giggle a little. “Sunday. Is that after…?”
“Yeah.” She smiled wickedly.
“Sheen?” Emrys walked over and draped an arm lazily over Shahin, whose smile shifted in a heartbeat to something tame and domestic.
“Sunday,” she told Ayla, a flash of her old spark showing.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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