More Than Words
"It's going to be strange here," Donegal's father warned him, with the pinch-faced frown that he got when talking about the boarding school.
"Dad, it's a school," Donegal replied, more than a bit exasperated. "I can handle it."
That just made his father frown all the harder. "Promise me no preaching."
Oh, so that's what all of the fussing was about. His Dad and Mom had never really agreed about raising him in the Church, but Mom had been around on Sundays and Dad, more often than not, hadn't (more often than not, he hadn't been around on Mondays, either, or Tuesdays or Wednesdays…)
Something about the Church had sung to Donegal, in a way that his father's army stories or even his mother's nursing never had. The bible offered answers, instead of evasions; it offered hope. The faith had taken hold in Donegal's heart and, when he was done with this boarding school Dad insisted on, he would be going on to seminary. He just had to get through the next four years of glowering.
"I'll be discrete, quiet, and subtle," he assured his father, rather than making a promise he would end up breaking. "Dad, I'm not going to go pounding on people's doors, asking if they've seen the light. I know high school students." More than that, he knew himself. There were people who had that calling, the skill needed to do missionary work. That wasn't him.
"Mmf. Well, all right," Doug relented reluctantly. "If I hear any complaints, though, I'm calling your mother."
Some people, Donegal thought ruefully, went to boarding school to get away from their parents.
~ They rattled around in the building, the eighteen of them; the place clearly built for more students than their small class, but they were, the Director kept pointing out, the first class, the experiments, the trial run. They would have to live with their tiny social group for at least the first year.
Donegal found himself gravitating towards the lounge of a nearby pod after class, spending time with a small group of students. When you came down to it, aside from the brand-new school nature, the underground building, and the tiny class size, it wasn't all that different from other high schools. The kids, at least, were much the same. He thought, tiredly, that a school on Mars would have the same kids, just wearing slightly different faces.
He found himself spending a lot of time with a small group of students whose "Faces" he could find some comfort with - Abasalom and Anise, Holly-and-Juniper, Tristan and Ysolde. Although others passed through their group, those six were the ones he felt at home with. Some of the others were just too blatant for him, others too creepy. The first time he'd made eye contact with Meshach, he'd thought so this is what a serial killer looks like. It wasn't a pleasant thought, its only saving grace that he'd never encountered that face in his other schools.
Ysolde and Anise were brazen, not exactly comforting, nor quite something he'd seen before, but they weren't as in-your-face as Isra and Dita, and seemed to find Donegal sweet, which was an assessment he could live with - "sweet" meant non-threatening, after all, and he'd always had trouble putting forth that image. He was too much like his father and grandfather in build (and, much to his shame, temper) for it to be an easy sell.
The group had its own spiderweb of relationships, of course - they weren't that different from an ordinary school. Tristan was mad for Ysolde, in a way Donegal found a bit crazy, as young as they were; Anise was mad for Absalom, in a way that Ab seemed entirely oblivious to. Juniper - Donegal thought that she liked him, but it was hard to tell, and he didn't want to lead her on. He wasn't interested in that sort of relationship, not without marriage, and they were too young by far for that.
When you got past the complicated, all-consuming, ridiculous dating dances they were all doing, they were good people, moral people, and he liked their company for that. It didn't take long for him to consider them friends, and they, it seemed, returned the favor. At least, after the Big Reveal their first Friday there, Absalom and Holly found him before Doug did.
It could have been that they just had a better idea where to look, of course. He had a corner he preferred, down in the library next to a sculpture of a waterfall, a place he'd shared with Holly and Juniper on more than one occasion. It was more than a rope-ball-length from the doorway, but it was still in "safe" distance, and Juniper could find her way anywhere.
When everything blew up on Friday, he didn't bother with the rope at all, just bulled out of the Dining Hall and straight back to his waterfall, his chin set because he would not cry or flip out where anyone could see him.
He was praying when they found him, on his knees behind the waterfall, asking the Lord for guidance. He heard them come, but they waited respectfully until he'd finished the prayer and opened his eyes.
"Donnie…" Holly began quietly. "It's scary, but it's not all that bad, is it?"
He gulped air. He didn't want to come off as frightened, but he was, in truth, more scared than he'd ever been in his life. "That man, Luke. He'd my grandfather," he began, thinking about the face of his beloved (if oft-absent) Grandpa with those wide evil wing. "And… he's a demon. A demon out of hell, Holly." And if his grandfather looked like that, what did that mean for his father? And for him? "And the Literature professor looks like the devil himself. What kind of place are we in? Why would our parents send us here?"
"I don't know," Holly answered slowly, "But I know there have always been things my parents weren't telling me. Didn't you ever feel that way, like there were deep secrets everyone kept just a whisper away?"
He nodded, slowly, unwillingly. "Sometimes," he allowed. "Sometimes I felt as it my parents didn't tell me anything at all." His mother, he meant. He knew Doug didn't tell him anything. But this was still beyond the pale. He'd expected a little sin here and there, not… demons. "Demons," he muttered aloud.
"Oh, Donegal." Holly scooted close to him, patting his back. "Donegal, they're not demons. They're not from Satan. I promise you that. They're strange, yes, and yeah… Luke's your grandfather?... he looks a little scary. But, be honest, he looked scary before the wings, didn't he?"
The air had popped when she'd promised. Something his father had said once - "don't ever promise something you can't follow through with-" bubbled to mind. As a child, it had upset him, because Dad wouldn't promise to come home when he left. But now…
"Luke isn't frightening." It was, he realized, true. His father and grandfather, whatever they were, were not demons out of hell. "I'm sorry I acted like a fool, Holly. Absalom."
"Donegal, you back here?" That was his father. He sighed, and straightened, not minding Holly's brief hug.
"He's here, sir," Absalom called. "He came to find me when I freaked out." He winked and, for once, Donegal was grateful for the lie.
Doug stomped back, looking much the same as he always had. "He did?" He didn't hide his disbelief, but over his shoulder, Luke - still with those wicked-looking wings - answered.
"I told you he was a good kid, Doug. Everything all right now, Absalom?"
"Well, sir, you still look like a demon."
Behind the shelter of the waterfall, Donegal gaped at his friend, but Grandpa was laughing. "You've got it backwards. Demons look like me… or, that is, drawings of demons look like people like me." Despite the fact he was looking at Absalom, Donegal knew his grandfather was talking to him. "People have often feared and reviled what they don't know. But I'm still Luke, still your gym teacher. Mike is still Mike VanderLinden, and, believe it or not, Regine is still an ice queen."
That got a giggle from Holly, and she whispered. "Will we…? Donnie says he's your grandson…"
"Yes. You'll all Change eventually, although I don't know what you'll look like. But you'll still be the same people you were."
Donegal stood, unwilling to let his friends hide him any longer. "Even with wings, sir?"
Luke nodded at him, with a smile he remembered from childhood. "Even with wings, Don. And you'd wear them well."
School was settling in to a tolerable level of weird for Donegal. It wasn't comfortable, exactly, but his friends seemed to be doing well, and there didn't seem to be any choice but to do well, to, settle in, and wait for the Change.
He had, so far, done well with adhering to his father's wisheds; he hadn't preached to anyone, except when someone had specifically asked him about faith or religion. He wasn't causing any waves, and he hadn't even commented on the clear pre-marital sex going on all around him. As far as he could tell, he'd kept his nose clean.
That didn't stop him from cringing when his father and grandfather called him into Luke's office Friday after classes. Bad enough to get called onto the carpet, worse to have it be your family doing the calling. "Sir? Dad?" he asked nervously, hovering in the doorway.
"Come in, Donegal, and close the door behind you," Luke rumbled. Once the door was shut, he continued. "We have something of a favor we want to ask of you, and it's a big one." Dad coughed, clearly unhappy with the situation. That just made Luke glower. "It's a lot to ask of anyone, but we've found ourselves a problem, and I think you can help her out."
The problem was a her? Who needed help? He frowned at his grandfather but kept listening.
But Luke was frowning, too. "I am going to tell you things, Donegal, that are not supposed to be general knowledge yet, and I want your promise to tell nobody else - with the exception of one that I'll name later."
Promises again. He glanced over at his father, who was echoing Luke's expression. His glower gentled, though, as he caught Donegal's glance. "It's okay, kiddo. Do what he says; it'll work out."
He could trust them. He nodded, slowly. "I promise, sir." The air warped around them, making his head hurt, and Luke's expression twisted into a wry grin.
"That's the start of it. It gets weirder from there."
They spent the next half an hour, his father and grandfather, explaining exactly how weird the school was. What he would be expected to do. Not why, except in the broadest generalities, but very clearly what. And his children afterwards. And theirs.
And then, when his head was reeling and he wanted to throw something at someone, anyone, Luke brought it all back around to the beginning. "And, because of that, in part, we would like your help."
"My kids aren't enough?" he snapped, and regretted it just as quickly. "I'm sorry, sir, it's just…"
"We understand. Trust me," he continued ruefully, "we understand. I mentioned that there are wards to make this all easier to handle?"
"To keep us docile, sir."
"More or less. Your classmate, Aella - do you know her?"
Aella. He nodded slowly. "Friends with Megan and that group? She's the brown-haired girl with the green eyes who always looks unhappy?" Who, like him, had not yet Changed.
"That's her," Luke agreed. "What do you think of her?"
"She seems... lost. Like, I don't know, not a sparrow among songbirds but something quiet and solemn, a dove maybe, and all her friends are loud and flighty..." he flushed. "I'm sorry, sir, I mean, she seems like a nice girl."
Luke shrugged. "Nothing to be sorry for, kiddo. Honesty is good. Especially considering what we're going to ask of you."
"What...?" Considering what he'd been told, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. He glanced longingly at the door, but Luke had started talking again.
This explanation was much shorter, but left Donegal feeling vaguely ill. "That's... that's rather disgusting."
"It can be," Luke agreed, "especially if not handled well. But I have faith; I think you'll be able to handle it. And you can always come to Doug or I for advice if you get into a jam. I don't think your classmates can say that."
To be one hundred percent honest, Donegal wasn't sure he could, either, but he appreciated that Luke thought it was so. "And you want me to..." it still sounded gross, "...to Own Aella. Why?"
"The wards don't work on her," his father grunted. "She's fighting them. Hurting the wards and herself. And we can't have that."
"This is the kinder option," Luke murmured. "And she's agreed to it, more or less."
"More or less." Donegal felt numb.
"As much as we could explain in the situation. Donegal, this would be a big help to us, the school, and to Aella."
They'd known since they decided to ask him that he'd say yes. Resenting that, he nodded anyway. "Of course. What do I have to do?"
They gave him time to get a suit on, find some flowers, and run to the store for a necklace. Not a ring; they could talk about that later. Donegal had some praying to do, but they weren't going to give him time for that, it seemed.
He stood in the front of the Library looking at her, a lovely girl who looked angry and terrified all at once. The Director, Professor Valerian, his father and Grandfather, and Professor Pelletier were in attendance, but they were unimportant. She was what mattered right now.
"You Belong to me," he said, his voice catching a little on the last word, no matter how much he tried to sound firm and certain. This was a commitment, tying him to her as much as her to him, and it was a massive responsibility. Would he be able to do right by her? "From now until we both graduate this place, you are mine. Your well-being is my responsibility, and your voice and hands are mine. I will take care of you," he added fiercely, as much to himself as to her, "and keep you safe." That hadn't been part of the lines Luke had given him, but it seemed very important to add in. He thought he saw her smile a little bit, and her hands squeezed his a little tighter. "I Belong to you," she recited, hollowly, sounding as frightened as she looked. "From now until we both graduate, your will is mine, and everything that I am and have is now yours." Her chin went up, stubborn and determined, like she was daring him to boss her around.
Instead, he kissed her. It wasn't a proper wedding, no, but he could do this as right as he could. "We have a lot to talk about," he murmured, while she was still catching her breath. "But not here."
"Not here," she agreed, looking around, resentfully, at the adults. "Threshold, carry me over it, maybe?"
He couldn't help but smile at her, and, feeling a bit like a show-off, scooped her up into his arms. "Yes, dear," he teased. He turned to his father and grandfather, feeling the smile slide off his face. "Dad, sir, if you'll excuse us?"
Luke, on the other hand, was smiling. "Of course. Good luck." He held the door open for them.
"Thanks." He had a feeling he was going to need the luck - and the door-holding helped, too, as he carried his new… hunh, what had Luke said? Keeping. Owning. Property. Thrall… [Old tongue]. He kissed her cheek cautiously. "Girlfriend," he murmured.
She glanced up at him, smiling uncertainly. "It seems like a little more than that," she offered.
"It does," he agreed, "but the words for it are all kind of ugly."
"'Thrall,'" she agreed, wrinkling her nose. "I have to warn you, I'm lousy at housework."
"That's all right," he assured her. "I don't require that much in the way of cleaning up after. And I wouldn't expect that from you, anyway."
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