Chapter 63: JamianDiscuss
Friends, lovers or nothing
We can really only ever be one
Friends, lovers or nothing
We'll never be the in-between, so give it up
It was easier than it should have been to slip away from Ty and the crew after dinner Monday night. Ty had been off all day – smiling, friendly, cheerful, but maintaining a distance from Jamian that was jarring and strange.
He probably deserved it; he’d pushed further than he should have on Sunday, with all this talk about babies. Ty had been patient with his body-shyness; it hadn’t been very fair of him to accuse him of being a deadbeat parent, or to lay down ultimatums.
Ty would forgive him. Or he wouldn’t, in which case he’d have bigger problems than just theoretical children and the parenting of them. Problems like oh, crap, I’ve driven away the first person who ever understood me. Problems like I’m bound to this person and I don’t want to be free, and now they hate me.
Maybe he wouldn’t hate him. Maybe he was just thinking about what he’d said. Shiva seemed to think Ty didn’t do a lot of that in relationships: “She just grabs tight and holds on to what’s hers, you know, like a kid with a toy, until she gets bored of it. As long as you go into things knowing it’s temporary, it’s okay. Well, as okay as the bond will let it be.”
It didn’t sound like a good deal to Jaya, to get left like Shiva had at the end of the year, pregnant or with a small baby, just watching Ty walk away from her and the baby. But would pushing him do any good? Or would it just make them both miserable all year, and then leave her just as alone when September came?
He’s graduating anyway. He’s not going to stick around. She swallowed the lump of emotion that rose up with that thought, and kept walking. She didn’t know where she was going, or even if she was going anywhere. Maybe she just needed to walk. To clear her head.
“Hey! Hey, is that you, Jame?”
“Who else would… Oh.” She turned slowly, wondering when she’d decided to be a girl again. Must be all this talk about babies. ”Hi, Melchior.”
“It’s a good look on you.” The little goblin looked down at his feet, suddenly shy. ”Look, I was going to come find you anyway. We were getting together a poker game, do you want to come play?”
“Yeah, sure. What’s the buy-in?” She patted her pockets, realizing as she did that she’d stopped carrying cash since coming here.
“We’re playing for pennies. If you want, we’ll walk you back to your room so you can pick up some change.”
She almost demurred, but remembered the bullies in the grotto. Serelondae’s friends, but hell, Phelen was Ty’s friend, and she wouldn’t want to come upon him in a dark alley – especially not like this! “We?” she asked instead. She wasn’t sure a dark alley with Melchior was all that much brighter an idea.
“Yeah, Nick and Alex are just around the corner somewhere. We were out looking for Niki and Anwell, and maybe Bowen, but Aggie probably won’t let him go. Ditto Finnegan and Allyse.”
“What, are you collecting every-” boy toy “-Kept in the school?”
“That would be a pretty damn big poker game, wouldn’t it?” He grinned widely, and very sharply. “Nah, just the ones we know are cool.”
“Thanks…” She thought it was a compliment, but she wasn’t quite sure. The rules seemed to be different when she was a girl.
“No problem.” He made a jerky little movement that seemed as if he’d thought about patting her shoulder, then thought better of it. “Just over here – hey, Nick!”
“Yeah? Oh, you found him. Her. Hey, Jamian.” Mel’s sidekick smiled around his tusks. “Gonna play poker with us?”
She nodded her acquiescence, suddenly, uncomfortably aware that, setting aside the strangeness, Nikolai was cute.
“Great!” At least he seemed unaware of her sudden realization. “Alex is trying to convince Anwell, or, I guess, to convince Magnolia to let him go. I guess that means he’ll grab Niki, too.”
“Great,” Melchior smiled, “that just leaves Finnegan and Bowen. And um… wow, are all the Fifth Cohort girls already taken?” He made hangdog look like so much more than a figure of speech, his ears flopping like a sad bulldog.
“I don’t know,” Jaya admitted. “Between Ty and that mess with the Succubus Committee, I haven’t gotten out much.”
“I’d say ‘lucky you’ but I’m not sure I’d want a mess with the succubi, no matter how sexy they are. Ivette and Oralee are dangerous; I’ve seen what their idea of fun is like. And the rest of VanderLinden’s Students – no offense.”
“None taken.” And there really wasn’t. “I’m not like the rest of that cy’ree anyway. But Joff is nice. And Ty.”
“Well Ty, of course,” Melchior recovered quickly. “But Joff, really?”
“Really.” She nodded emphatically. “He’s a really sweet boy.” She blinked at herself – had she ever, ever in her life thought of someone as a really sweet boybefore?
Melchior laughed. “Getting your head too far into girlspace?”
“I guess so.” She shook her head, flustered. “So, why are you just looking for un-Kept Fifth Cohort girls?”
“Well, the Kept ones’ Keepers won’t normally let them come play with us, present company excepted. And, well,” he fidgeted uncomfortably, and Jaya understood abruptly.
“If I was a guy right now you wouldn’t have a problem finishing that sentence,” she complained.
“If you were a guy you wouldn’t think I was hitting on you for saying it.”
She didn’t think it would actually matter, since her brain was still her brain either way, but she didn’t think it was worth arguing. “So you’re looking for dates.”
“Well, yeah.” He couldn’t meet her eyes as he said it. “That’s nothing strange.”
“Of course not.” Two babies required over four years in the school, and Melchior with a face like a trash compactor when he dropped his Mask. Of course he was looking for a date – but it wouldn’t be Jaya. “The whole Fifth Cohort can’t be taken already.”
“I dunno,” Nikolai demurred, “the older students are like sharks in the water when the new class arrives. How long did it take Ty with you?”
She flinched. “That was different.”
“Except how it was completely the same. Some people – not Ty, but some of the others, especially the Second Cohort – are really shameless about the tricks they use. By the time any of the rest of us have seen a new student, they’re already brainwashed and Owned.”
Jaya thought hurriedly about the Fifth Cohort girls she shared a class with. Nydia was already with Dysmas. Kylie was probably with the big blond Viking-like boy. Renata – she wasn’t really sure there, but she thought Renata had been hooked in by the same crew as Kylie. Shahin had that asshole Emrys. Kailani had Conrad. “Marje and Kendra?” she offered.
“Alex is dating Marjolaine, or at least trying,” Melchior offered. “I’m not quite sure about Kendra, but I think Ofir ended up Owning her.”
“Wait, then, what about Manira?”
“The sweet little farm girl in your cy’ree?”
Jaya nodded. “I don’t think she’s dating anyone at all. Maybe we could stop by her room after we ask Finnegan and Bowen?” Ask Allyse and Agatha was probably more correct, but she refused to think of it that way.
“Sure.” Melchior smiled gamely. “Let’s start with Allyse. We can hit your room on the way.” The halls in the dorm areas were wide enough to walk three abreast with plenty of room left over; Jaya found herself flanked by the two of them like some sort of honor guard. It was strange, and a little annoying; bullies or no, she wasn’t in that much danger in the middle of the…
“That’s a good look on you. Want to come back to my room and model the whole package?”
Standing in the middle of the hallway, blocking it with his presence if not completely with his body, was the creepiest ghoul Jaya had had the misfortune to encounter – and at Addergoole, sharing a suite with Phelen, that was saying something. She’d seen the albino before, with his dead-looking skin and creepy smile, but not looking at her in that particularly hungry way.
“Barem.” Melchior sounded cautious and angry. He was smaller than the ghoul – Barem was muscle-builder big and strong-looking and, while the three of them could probably take him, it would be a mess. Of course, him wanting her to model her “whole package” for him was pretty messy, too.
“I think,” she said carefully, “that my Keeper,” oh, god, I went there, “would probably have a problem with me doing that.”
“But what would your Keeper be able to say about it, once you were safely in my room?”
She was not going to play the girl and turn to Melchior or Nikolai for rescue. She’d get herself out of this, damn it.
“Probably ‘Jaya, come out of there now,’ which could be kind of uncomfortable for everyone, especially if you were trying to get a modeling session out of me.”
“Well, and what would they do if you couldn’t come out?”
A lump lodged in her throat as he grinned at her. He really did mean to carry her off into his room. This was going to be a hell of a fight, one she wasn’t sure they could win – and what would he do when he got her naked and found out she wasn’t what he expected?
“Isn’t that against the Laws?” Nikolai offered mildly. She didn’t want to feel grateful for the rescue, but it might save her some trouble in the long run.
“Screw the Laws. It’s the fourth week of school and I’m bored. If her Keeper didn’t want her taken, he wouldn’t be letting her wander the halls alone.”
“What, you think we’re here for the fun of it?” Melchior grinned. “No, Ty’ll owe us big for this one.”
“Ty.” The monster couldn’t turn paler, but he looked as if he’d like to. “This little thing Belongs to Ty?”
“What, you haven’t been paying attention? Yeah. She’s Ty’s.” It felt both good and horrible to hear someone describe her that way; she just stood her ground and smiled.
“Fuck. Guy can’t win.” He bowed awkwardly in Jaya’s direction. “Sorry, miss. Tell your Keeper to put a collar on you and this won’t happen again.”
Chapter 63b: Jaya
Because of the wonderful things he does
We're off to see the wizard
“Well, that was interesting.” Nikolai’s wry understatement broke the uncomfortable statement. “He’s right about one thing, though.”
“The collar?” Melchior nodded. “He is. It would save you trouble, Ja…”
“Jaya. I didn’t have any trouble until I went wandering around like this.” It wasn’t totally true, but they didn’t need to know that.
“Hell, they know you’re a Daeva now. Do you think they’ll care which face you’re wearing at the moment when they know you can switch at will?”
Melchior had said something similar himself, Jaya remembered - There’s not much I wouldn’t do for the chance to have a Daeva. She eyed him nervously, wondering suddenly if this was all some sort of scam.
“Relax.” His grin contrived to look abashed. “Do you really think we’d go to all this effort just to get you alone?”
“Probably not,” she admitted. “So my room, then…”
“Then the Thorne Girls’ suite, then Manira. And isn’t this the pod where your room is?”
It was, though she hadn’t realized they were that close. All the halls started to look the same after a while. “Yeah, right through here.” She hesitated at the door. “Come on in, I just have to find my change.”
They hovered in the doorway, as if unwilling to step too far into her space, looking uncomfortable while she dug through her sock drawer. Finally, Nick barked out a laugh and stepped inside. “You might be a Daeva, but you’re just another guy at heart, aren’t you?”
“If you keep that up, I’ll switch again without noticing,” she joked, although it felt disturbingly possible.
“Heck, we don’t care,” Melchior finally stepped into her room. “You’re still Jay either way, right?”
“I’m still the same person,” she affirmed. “Just with a different, um…”
“Hairdo,” Nikolai supplied.
“Hairdo, that’s it.” She fished her change out from under a pile of socks. “Ready. On to the dangerous part of the mission.”
Humming the Mission: Impossible theme, Melchior led them down the hall, pausing to peer melodramatically around a corner.
“Oh, hi, Nenica.” He pulled himself upright, smoothing his clothes as if he hadn’t just been playing spy.
“What is it you’re doing?” The pretty, dark-haired girl had black-tufted cat ears, and the eyes and tail to match; Jaya had seen her around Melchior’s crew from time to time.
“I don’t suppose you’d believe I was searching for listening devices?”
By way of answer, she pointed up to the textured-plaster ceiling. “You were looking in the wrong direction.”
“Ah, but I was looking for new and hiddenlistening devices. Not those old, passé ones.”
“Carry on, then.”
He bowed, she bowed, and they kept walking, Melchior far more subdued.
“Doesn’t she count?” Jaya asked, when she was pretty sure the girl was out of earshot.
“Count for what? Poker? Taken.”
“Oh.” Subdued as well, she dragged feet and tail until they reached the Thorne Girls’ lair.
Finnegan answered Melchior’s knock, which, in an ideal world, would have simplified things. “Hi,” he said cautiously, not the best sign.
“Hey,” the little goblin greeted, “want come play poker with us?”
He smiled a little. “That would be cool. Um…” He glanced back into the suite.
“Who is it?” The harsh voice sounded bored.
“Um, it’s Mel and Nick. Do you need me tonight?”
“Poker time, is it? Go on, I think we can manage without you.”
“Thanks. One second, guys.” He stepped out of the doorway, revealing the suite behind him that looked a lot like a bachelor version of the suite Ty, Shiva, Phelen, and Magnolia shared. Acacia and Massima were sprawled out on the couch; the third member of their crew was sitting cross-legged in the armchair, her eyes closed.
Finnegan hugged her briefly, for all the world looking affectionate and caring, and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be back later,” he murmured. The girl, Allyse, who had to be his Keeper, didn’t move. Seeming reluctant, the boy stood, tugged his shirt, as if to cover either the thin leather collar or the line of hickeys circling his throat. “All right,” he said, this time to Melchior. “Let’s go.”
“We’re gonna try for Bowen on the way back,” Melchior informed him. “No great hope, but it’s good to try.”
“Yeah,” he muttered in response, his shoulders hunched forward. Jaya felt a twinge of sympathy for him, and a twinge of more selfish empathy. If Ty decided to ignore her like that, how would she handle it? Probably not all that well. And ignored and having to ask permission for everything… She shook her head. Ty wasn’t that bad. Assuming Ty was still talking to her.
“Two kids, really?” she muttered. Melchior shot a surprised look at her.
“You’re not supposed to talk about that.”
“No-one told me not to.”
Nikolai laughed. “So are you and Ty going to…?”
“I don’t know.” She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “That’s kind of up to her, isn’t it?”
“We fought about it yesterday, though,” she offered, not sure why she did.
“Yeah? That can’t have been fun.”
“Not really, no. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“Well, my offer is always open,” Melchior put in.
“Mel!” Nikolai looked shocked. “Poaching?”
“Just leaving options open.”
“She’s Kept,” Finnegan interjected flatly. “What can you do about that?”
“Fight her Keeper for her. If she wanted.”
Jaya squirmed as all three of them looked at her. “Shouldn’t we be heading to Agatha’s suite now?” And not talking about fighting Tya, or if she wanted anyone to fight her, or god forbid, if she wanted Melchior in place of Tya.
“Right.” Nikolai agreed forcefully enough to shut up the little goblin’s protests. “Otherwise it will be dawn and I still won’t have won all of Mel’s money.”
“Never happen. This way for Agatha’s place. Then we can stop by the little farm girl’s and on with the show, right?”
“Right.” They stopped by another suite door for another knock, and another collared boy opened the door. This one was wearing a slender silver collar, and had a pair of tiny horn-buds poking out from shaggy brown hair.
“Yeah?” he asked dully. He looked wan and exhausted, like he hadn’t slept in days, or maybe weeks.
“Poker?” Melchior offered, in a tone of voice Jaya hadn’t heard him use before – gentle, empathetic.
“Me?” The boy blinked slowly at him.
“You,” the goblin nodded.
“No.” The bell-like voice came from somewhere around his armpit. “And you don’t need to come back and ask again, either, Melchior. Take your little misfit crew and go.”
“We’re going, Agatha.” The boy slumped again as Melchior and Nikolai backed away from the door, a desperate exhaustion in his expression. Jaya bit back a comment, but stayed staring at the door in horror for minutes after it had slammed shut.
“He should survive,” Nikolai told her gently. “Ofir did.”
“Okay…” She realized her hands were around her throat and slowly lowered them. “Someone should help him.”
“It’s against the Laws to interfere.”
“It should be against the Laws to treat someone like that!”
“It should,” Finnegan agreed softly, startling all of them. “But it’s not, so you have to make it stop yourself.”
“That’s interfering,” Melchior complained. “Unless you mean stopping it as a Kept, and that’s impossible, isn’t it?”
“Probably,” Jaya murmured, remembering Joff. Finnegan’s hand snuck up to his neck, and he nodded slowly as well.
“You were talking about it earlier,” he muttered, but he was looking at the floor now. “Challenging. It’s within the Laws, or at least not out of them.”
“I think the Thorne Girls are rubbing off on you,” Nikolai teased. The boy’s head shot up angrily, but he bit back whatever he was going to say.
Jaya looked between the two of them. ”I think we need to get these guys girlfriends. Finnegan, do you know any single Fifth Cohort girls?”
“You don’t count, right?”
She blushed. “I’m not a girl. And I’m not really single.”
“Right. Um, I think Azumi’s single, but I think Smitty would kill anyone who tried. Marje?”
“Dating Alex,” all three answered him at the same time. He cringed, and Jaya immediately felt bad.
“Right, sorry. Um…” he recovered quickly, with a grim smile. “Massima’s looking. She’s not Fifth Cohort, but I don’t think she’d mind the teeth.”
“I deserved that.” Melchior cringed. “But I’m not sure the Thorne Girls are my type.”
“At a certain point,” Nikolai pointed out, “someone is going to have to be your type. Probably two someones.”
“Here’s Manira’s room,” Jaya interrupted, and, before they could go on, knocked on the door.
She remembered the girl as vibrant, cheerful, bright-cheeked. Today she looked wan, listless, and tired, wearing jeans and a T-shirt not all that different from what Jaya had on. “Oh, hi, Jay,” she said cautiously. “And friends?”
“Hey, Manira.” She was cy’Linden, she reminded herself; that’s probably why the sex change didn’t seem to faze her at all. “Want to come play poker with us?”
She looked over the group slowly and with an uncomfortably hungry intensity, but sighed and shook her head no. “I’d love to, but I’m on house arrest. No-one in, no-one out.”
“Oh, man.” Melchior looked horrified. “Seriously? That’s harsh.”
“What did you…” Jaya trailed off, looking at the farm girl in horror.
“No,” she snapped, “no more than you did!”
“Oh! Okay, sorry. Is, um,” she struggled for something to make her gaffe better, “is there anything we can do?”
“Some food maybe, when your poker game is done?” She flapped her hand quickly. “Stomach-food, real food, I mean.”
Stomach-food? The girl’s eyes were lingering on Melchior. Jaya nodded, puling her attention back. “I’ll pick something up for you. I hope everything goes okay.”
“Me, too. Thanks.”
“So that’s everyone, if Alex got Niki.”
“Done and gotten. I couldn’t find… oh, hi, Jay.” Alex rounded the bend, followed by a cheerful-looking Niki, a Niki who stopped and stared at Jaya until Alex punched him in the arm. “What, haven’t you ever seen a Daeva before?”
“Not in jeans,” Niki muttered, rubbing his arm. “Hi, Jame’.”
“Hi, Niki.” She found she didn’t mind the staring. “Ready to lose all your quarters?”
“Only if you promise not to cheat.”
“Bah, I could beat you with my empathy and my tail tied behind my back.”
“Bring it, Daeva.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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