Eseme's Bonus Story
Friends Will Be Friends

Week Three, Year Five of the Addergoole School

If Tuesday D&D nights were for the guys, Wednesday movie nights were the time Agatha re-staked her claim on the apartment – and on them. That made the scene all the tenser tonight, with Dysmas missing, but Agatha, a tight smile barely moving her lips, stuck in the DVD at eight sharp anyway and pushed play.

Tolly didn’t mind her moods. She rarely aimed them at him, and when she did, she usually ended up feeling stupid and angrier with herself than she was him – she looked ridiculous yelling up at him, a rabbit yelling at a mountain, and she knew it. He did feel a little bad for Bowen, though, who hadn’t yet learned to let it all roll off his back.

Today, the kid sat at Agatha’s feet – she had enthroned herself in the big armchair, and heaven help anyone who pointed out that she looked like a kid in Daddy’s lounger – trying to pay attention to the movie, and Tolly sat at one end of the couch, trying to do the same. Dysmas’s girlfriend/Kept/after-dinner snack, Nydia, was curled up at the other end of the couch, drinking a tall glass of orange juice and, it seemed, trying to be invisible.

Tolly pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and tucked it around her feet. “Can’t get warm, can you?”

She blinked at him uncertainly. “No,” she admitted, very quietly. “Is that bad?”

“Nah.” He patted her knee cautiously. “You just need to rest up for a bit and stop donating so much blood.”

She frowned at him like he was talking about something dirty. “But Dysmas…”

“Look, Dee knows he can’t drink from you every day, not for long. He’s not going to hold it against you if you need to lay off for a few days.” And he should know better than to take from her day after day, however willing she seemed.

“Tolly, I can’t hear the movie,” Aggie interrupted pointedly. He rolled his eyes and settled back on the couch, stifling a chuckle as Nydia stuck her tongue out in Aggie’s direction.

“No-one’s talking, Aggie, they’re still on the credits.”

“Well, they were going to start soon.” She hrmpphed softly and settled back into her seat, petting Bowen’s head lightly. He, in return, leaned into her hand, though he still looked ready to run at any minute. Tolly didn’t blame him; with Dysmas gone, Aggie was ramping up for a good tantrum, and Bowen would get the brunt of it.

It was a good movie, and after a few minutes, even Aggie relaxed. Tolly let her occasional “it’s too bad Dysmas isn’t here to see this” pass, though he could see it was making Nydia increasingly anxious. She’d only been hanging out with their crew for a few days – she hadn’t caught on yet that Aggie’s bitching meant less than nothing most of the time. He made a point to get her another slice of pizza when he got up for his fifth, and another glass of juice, and hoped she’d mellow out soon.

Dysmas’s arrival, however, when it came, dashed any hopes Tolly had been holding out for a pleasant evening. Not only was he late, not arriving until halfway through the movie – and right in the middle of a good action scene! – but he came with a shy little Fifth Cohort on his arm.

Azumi. They both had American History with her, and he was pretty sure Dysmas shared a Chemistry class with her as well; right now, Dee was trying out his rudimentary first-year Japanese on her, and she was responding with a polite but uncertain half-smile. They’d never heard her talk – not just like Coy, who preferred to remain in the shadows; she didn’t talk even when called on in class, and the teachers seemed to accept it.

What was she doing here? Next to Tolly, Nydia stiffened, obviously wondering the same thing. “Dis…” he began.

“It’s all right, Tolly,” he interrupted. “She’s here of her own free will. She just wants to help out. Right, Azumi?” The girl nodded softly in response, her hair falling to cover more of her face. Dysmas reached up to brush it out of her face, and she very firmly caught his hand and shook her head no.

He dropped his hand, surprised, and Tolly swallowed a laugh. Okay, she wasn’t befuddled. Girls under Dysmas’s kind of sway didn’t tell him no.

He caught sight, then, of Nydia’s face, and his mirth vanished. The poor kid… “Come on, Nee, come to the store with me. I’m going to murder myself a nice big steak and share it with you.”

“But…” she stalled, looking wistfully at Dysmas, who was holding both of Azumi’s hands very gently.

“You can’t just wander off in the middle of the movie,” Agatha complained. Nydia hid a sudden smile behind a cough.

“Steak, you say?” she asked him. She shot one more glance at Dysmas, but he was lost in one-sided, stilted pidgin Japanese conversation with Azumi. “Sounds delicious. Do you think it’s safe?”

At that he did laugh, guffaw really, and screw Aggie’s movie. The most dangerous thing she’d encountered in the halls was the one she was making sad-puppy faces at. “Hon, if you weren’t already safe because you Belong to the vampire over there, you’re walking the halls with a giant. No-one’s going to touch you. No-one will even think about touching you.” There were advantages – a few – to being as big as he was; that was one of them.

She giggled a little, taking his point. “Okay.” She stood, not wobbling by an obvious effort of will. “Steak sounds phenomenal.”

Refusing to meet Dysmas’s eye, Tolly led her out of the suite and into the halls, taking the longest route he could come up with to the store.

It didn’t take her long to start, though; they were barely out of ear-shot of the suite when she grabbed his arm to claim his attention.

“What’s wrong with me?” she demanded.

You were mind-controlled into being Owned by a vampire. But he was pretty sure that wasn’t what she meant or what she wanted to hear. “Nothing’s wrong with you, hon.”

“Then why did he bring the little geisha home? Is he going to get rid of me? Replace me with her?”

“Hey, now, hon, be nice,” he admonished uselessly. “Dee isn’t trying to get rid of you. Don’t be silly.” Not yet. “He just…” There wasn’t any way to make it sound good. “He’s just hungry.”

She sniffled. “I should be enough for him.”

“Sweetie, if either of us swung that way, I wouldn’t be enough for him. And next to me, you’re a Happy Meal.”

She wrinkled her nose fastidiously. “I am not fast food.”

He didn’t want to think about his best friend sitting down to savor his meal of girl, so he changed the subject. “And Azumi isn’t a geisha. Be nice.”

She sulked. “I don’t want to be nice, Tolly. It’s bad enough being a Happy Meal. When he’s around, at least I don’t have to think about it, I can just sort of float along and what makes him happy makes me happy. But when he’s gone, I think about it.” She frowned. “And if I’m just his snack food, and he’s picked up a new main course… I think that would be unbearable.”

He didn’t know what to say, so he hugged her carefully. “I don’t think he’s going to pick up someone else, sweetie. He’s not going to trade you in, and if he did, it wouldn’t be Azumi.”

She sniffled softly. “Why not? She’s pretty. And she wouldn’t fight with Agatha.”

“Everyone but us fights with Aggie. It’s her peculiar charm.”

She laughed weakly. “You’re not answering. Why wouldn’t Dysmas trade up?”

He shook his head. “One, that’s not ‘trading up.’ Two, Azumi isn’t his type. Dys likes a girl he can relax around, joke with. He can’t do that with her; she’s too…” He searched for a word, gesturing with both hands, “proper. Prim.”

“What’s that make me?” she asked sharply. He refused to be daunted by her tone, though, and just smiled widely at her.

“Fun. Good company. Nice to be around.”

“Really?” She could break a man’s heart, looking like that. Dysmas was an idiot to ignore her, even if he was trying to give her some room to breathe.

“Really, hon.” He bent over to kiss the top of her head, and found her wrapping her arms around his neck. With nothing else to do, he hugged her, letting her squish him as tight as she wanted. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Well, anemia, but that’s why we’re buying steak, right?”

“Tolly!” she squealed, startled and laughing. She squirmed out of the hug and punched him solidly in the chest; he laughed joyfully at her.

“Anatoliy,” she scolded, trying to sound indignant; her giggles ruined the effect. “Anemia,” she huffed,” sticking her tongue out at him.

“Steak,” he reminded her. They were almost to the Store, anyway. “If you’re really good, I’ll cook it here and we can eat it at the Arcade.”

“Like in midair?” She eyed him dubiously.

“Totally in midair,” he assured her. “Warm and still moo-ing, right?”

“Mmm… still bleeding, just like me.”

“You’re bad,” he laughed, glad to see her smiling. “And, besides, no-one’s going to roast you.” He dragged her, both of them in high spirits, into the Store.

Twenty minutes later, they sat in a corner of the Arcade, eating their still-mooing steak on paper plates with plastic forks. “I could get used to this,” Nydia purred. “If Dysmas kicks me to the curb, will you still feed me steak?”

“I’ll feed you steak whenever you want.” It was a nice moment, but as they returned to the room, Anatoliy didn't bother taking the long way. Experience was a harsh teacher, but he’d learned her lessons well. Nydia would never be more than a friend, even if Dysmas did pass her over for Azumi. But she was his friend; the last thing he needed was to encourage any other kind of thought, in her, in Dysmas, or, gods help him, in himself.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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