Notes: Oh my god, almost 3500 words for the Academy in a single morning. This story is good for me, even if it’s not particularly good for our characters at the moment. Yeah, I’m doing stuff to them. I’ve got reasons, I swear. It’ll all be okay!
PS, it’s my man’s birthday today, and although he doesn’t read this blog often I have to celebrate him regardless, because he’s just that awesome. Happy 34th birthday, baby! I love you.
Title: The Academy
Part Six: Orange Is The New Blonde
It was probably inevitable that the fragile peace that existed in their quad couldn’t last for long. Ten was too volatile and Darrel was too defensive for the two of them to successfully ignore each other for long, but Cody didn’t think that anyone saw the status quo being blown away by someone outside their quad. Although in retrospect, it was a bad idea for Valero to try to insinuate herself into their home with no regard for whether or not she was wanted.
Valero and Darrel’s relationship baffled Cody. It wasn’t romantic, that much was clear, and it wasn’t even really affectionate. It was almost a parental type of thing, which was weird since they were the same age, but Valero seemed to be categorically incapable of taking a hint. Darrel could, and did, close his door regularly when he and Grennson were working on speaking Perel, and instead of leaving Valero would just sit down in their common room and start doing her homework.
“Don’t you have a quad of your own to go to?” Ten demanded more than once. Valero just tossed her hair and ignored hir, or worse yet, gave Ten a knowing smirk that meant nothing but got Ten’s hackles up like nothing else.
“Get her out of here,” Ten snapped at Cody the night before they were supposed to go out on his hoverbike. “Get her out of here before I take care of it on my own. I am so sick of the smell of her perfume that I could choke.”
If that wasn’t ironic then Cody didn’t know what was, but now didn’t feel like the time to be amused by that. On the other hand… “I’m in the middle of a conversation,” he pointed out, indicating the screen where Lacey was staring at Ten with interest.
Cody hadn’t been the best correspondent, hardly talking to anyone from home for the first month of his stay here, but as his schedule settled down and his quad mates stopped trying to kill each other, he got better at remembering to call. Lacey was rightfully pissed, at first.
“Oh, now that your new friends are getting boring you remember me?” she asked the first time Cody had called.
“I’m sorry,” he’d apologized with complete sincerity. “It’s just, there’s a lot to take in here. I’m still getting used to being in a new place and finding my way around this huge campus, and not living with my dads anymore.”
“Even your dads called me before you did,” Lacey informed Cody. “They’ve called me twice, actually. And they send me an opal necklace from Zair, so I’m considering making them my best friends instead of you.”
Shame burned bright and hot, and Cody felt himself flush, but he didn’t try to defend himself. After a few seconds of letting him suffer, Lacey sighed. “Sorry, I’m being mean. I miss you, that’s all. Things are crazy here with the new baby.”
Right, Lacey’s stepmother had been expecting. “How’d that go?”
Lacey shrugged. “Perfectly healthy baby boy. They named him Percy. Dad’s thrilled, of course.”
Of course. Lacey’s dad had always been a strange mix of guilty and bitter when it came to his natural daughter, and having a normal child now had to be a relief to him. A stupid, guilty relief, but a relief nonetheless.
“I don’t want to talk about me though,” Lacey said after a moment’s silence. “Tell me about your roommates.”
“Quad mates,” Cody corrected, but he told her all about them, lingering on the insanity that was Ten. Five more conversations in, though, and Lacey still hadn’t actually seen any of them. It was slightly deliberate—Cody made it a point to try and call her when Ten was out, not because he was ashamed of either of them but because Ten had a way of derailing conversations fast, but tonight he’d hoped Ten’s experiment in the kitchen would keep him occupied for a few minutes, just so he could check in on Lacey, who was in the infirmary again.
“Stupid chest infections,” Lacey had said with a scowl, rubbing her sternum irritably. “I could have handled it at home but Dad didn’t want me to be around the baby, in case he catches it. Which he won’t, he’s already been inoculated against everything except acts of God, but whatever.”
So now Ten was in their bedroom, and Lacey was staring at hir from her med bed like ze was the most interesting thing she’d ever seen, which was entirely possible. Ten had changed hir hair a few weeks ago to bright orange with sparking yellow and pink tips—literally sparking, it wasn’t just an illusion, and even though Ten assured Cody that it was just a harmless chemical reaction that would diminish over time, it still made Cody nervous to essentially see Ten’s hair on fire.
“Who’s that?” Ten said, flopping angrily onto Cody’s bed and staring at the holoscreen.
“That’s my friend Lacey,” Cody replied, forgoing any attempt at subterfuge. It never worked well with Ten. “Lacey, this is Tiennan St. Florian. Ten. My roommate.”
“Hi,” Lacey said with a grin. “Your hair is far, Ten.”
“Is that some quaint, colloquial way of saying incredible?” Ten asked snippily, but hir eyes were sharp as they looked over Lacey, taking in everything. “Because yes, it is, thank you very much. The technique is proprietary, I just came up with it.”
“You came up with that yourself?”
“Naturally. I’m a genius. Why are you in a hospital?”
Aaand too much. “Lacey, I’ve got to go, I’ll call you back later,” Cody said before abruptly ending the transmission. He turned to Ten. What do you need me to do?”
“Why was she in a hospital bed?” Ten asked, undaunted.
“She wasn’t, I was just calling her late,” Cody lied gamely. “That’s her own bed.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes it is.”
“Noooo…it isn’t.” Ze stared at Cody. “Why don’t you want me to know that?”
“Problem with Valero, you say?” Cody changed the subject. “I’ll get right on that.” He stood up and headed out into the common room.
Of course, figuring out what to say to the beautiful woman currently occupying most of their couch and ignoring him completely was another story. Cody could smell her perfume, a light floral scent, and it didn’t bother him the way it seemed to bother Ten, but knowing Ten ze was less bothered by that and more by the intrusion. Cody sat down next to Valero and cleared his throat.
Valero ignored him.
Cody tried again.
Valero ignored him.
“Mmm?” Valero looked over at Cody and smiled brightly. It was an entirely fake smile, the kind that Cody had seen Garrett give to people he really didn’t like. “What is it, Darling?”
Cody frowned. “Why are you calling me that?”
“Because you’re a little Darling, that’s why,” Valero said with no further explanation. “What do you want?”
“Why are you here?” Cody asked bluntly. “Darrel’s not even available, and he won’t be out for hours. Why stay?”
“Because I can.”
“No, you really can’t,” Cody said. “Ten asked you to leave, so why aren’t you?”
Valero rolled her eyes. “Tiennan knows better than to expect me to leave simply because he asks. He knows a lot more about hierarchies than he’s letting on. Simply put, I’m making a point. Darrel’s being a little reluctant to come into the fold, but once he’s over that, I’ll give you back your space.”
There was so much wrong with that statement that Cody barely knew where to start. After a moment of stunned silence, he did start though. “Ze. Not he, ze.” Valero snorted. “No, you know Ten wants to be referred to that way, you’ve been here enough times. You should do it that way.”
“What gave you the impression that I have to care about babying Tiennan’s preferences?” Valero asked idly. “I know you’re from a backwater Fringe planet and probably don’t understand this, but trust me, I’ll be gone soon enough. Faster if you convince Darrel to start spending time with the people he needs to get to know.” She smiled that awful smile again. “Legacies need to stick together, after all!”
“Goodness, you’re just precious, aren’t you?” Valero sighed. She put her tablet down and turned to focus on Cody. Out of the corner of his eye Cody saw Ten watching from their door, but he kept his focus on Valero. “The president of the Federation is a Legacy from the Academy. Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t,” Cody replied.
“And fifty percent of the highest ranking command staff of the Federation military is made up of Legacies. As are the presidents of the most influential universities and research institutions. The Academy is the place to be if you want to rise up in the ranks of the Federation’s elite, and the best way to let a head start on your competition is to be a Legacy. We have a public persona to uphold, and we are endowed with a gravitas that no one else our age merits.” Valero leaned against the back of the couch and rested her face on her hand.
“In order to continue to thrive, our group has to be united. That means bringing reluctant Legacies into the fold, and that’s why I sit in your smelly, dingy quad even when Darrel isn’t available. Because even when he can’t see me, you can, and you can tell him I was here. The best way to get me out of your hair is to convince him to socialize with the rest of us occasionally. We’re not asking for all of his time, after all.” Another bright, horrible smile. “Just a few evenings a week. Then he can spend the rest of his time with the Alien, the Freak, and,” she reached out and patted Cody’s cheek, “the dear, dim little Darling.”
Cody’s throat was tight, the way it got when he was meeting with the doctors, or on the very rare occasions when his dads fought. It was so tight it was painful, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to say anything in the face of Valero’s blatant, insulting honesty. Fortunately, he didn’t have to.
Ten, who could move with almost complete silence when the mood took hir, crept up behind Valero on the couch and upended a flask over her head. She shrieked and turned around to grab at hir, but Ten had already backed away, and looked on with satisfaction as the liquid spread to coat all of Valero’s perfect platinum hair, turning it the same bright orange color as hir own. Valero held it up to her eyes and gaped. “What…you! What is this?”
“It makes you look sooo superior,” Ten said mockingly. “Also like a fashion disaster, which, two for two as far as I’m concerned, I’m rather happy with the results.”
Neither of them expected Valero to scream, launch herself off the couch and tackle Ten into the kitchen. Darrel and Grennson’s door opened but Cody couldn’t pay any attention to them, he was too busy lunging after Valero to make sure she didn’t kill Ten.
Valero was on the combatives team, which meant she was a brutally good fighter, but Ten was surprisingly adept at protecting hirself from the worst of the attacks. They scrapped and rolled and screeched at each other before Valero worked her arms around Ten’s back, picked hir up and sent hir careening into the kitchen table so hard it broke under the force of hir fall. Cody tried to catch Ten but ended up taking a knee to the stomach in the process, which left him gasping and seeing stars.
Ten tried to squirm away and reengage but Cody held on for all he was worth, and just before Valero reached them long, milky white arms enfolded her and picked her up off the floor, squeezing tightly. Valero tried to fight, kicking back at Grennson and trying for a headbutt, but the Perel only tightened his grip until she could barely breathe.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Darrel yelled as he looked between Valero and Ten, finally focusing on Valero. “And why are you even still here?”
“Look at what he did to me!” Valero screamed, or tried to scream—Grennson cut her off with another squeeze. “Tell—him—let go—”
“She stays all the time and you never notice because you go and hide in your room like an infant and leave us to put up with her!” Ten yelled, finally escaping Cody’s grasp. The fight got louder from there but Cody didn’t really follow; his abdomen hurt so bad he was still gasping, and that wasn’t good. It wasn’t good because all of his quad mates were here, and Valero was here, and Ten was bleeding in three places and had huge bruises coming up on hir face but still managed to walk and talk normally, while Cody couldn’t even handle a knee to the gut, and they would all know he was a natural if he didn’t get the fuck up, and…
“Cody.” Cool hands enfolded his face, and Cody forced his eyes open so he could look up at Grennson, who blocked his view of the rest of the room. The Perel’s enormous eyes stared down at him, concern clear on his face. “Are you injured?”
“No,” Cody managed after a moment. “Just…just winded.”
Grennson leaned in close. “You feel injured,” he whispered cautiously.
Oh, shit, empath. “I’m fine,” Cody forced out in as normal a voice as he could. “Help me up, please.”
Grennson did so, and once he was standing the pressure on his abdomen relaxed a bit. It was hard to stand up straight, but Cody forced himself to as he looked at the crowded wreck of their common room.
“All right, Cadet Helms?”
Oh shit, that was Master Sergeant Jessup behind Valero. Cody straightened even further, determinedly keeping the wince off his face. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now, you two.” The Master Sergeant glared at Valero and Ten, who glared just as hard back. “Cadet St. Florian, I warned you about fighting in your quad. It seems like the lesson hasn’t taken.”
“She attacked me!” Ten exclaimed. “And she’s not a member of our quad, as much as she’d like to be, so it shouldn’t count!”
“I attacked you?” Valero demanded. “Look at what you’ve done to my hair! It was a deliberate assault on my person and I’m going to get you expelled for it, you grimy little—”
“You two are both going to be disciplined for this,” Jessup snapped. Ten and Valero both looked like they wanted to argue, but his gaze was flinty. “In fact, Admiral Liang has already asked for you both to be brought before him. Tonight, not tomorrow. Apparently your altercation was loud enough that some of your neighbors thought someone was being murdered in here, and the admiral doesn’t appreciate that kind of worry among his cadets. Now, you two with me.” He looked at the rest of them, his eyes lingering on Darrel, who still seemed shocked. “The rest of you, start cleaning this up. You can requisition another table in the morning.” He left, Ten and Valero reluctantly following in his wake. Ten looked back at Cody several times before ze cleared the door, and Cody met hir eyes as coolly as he could. He didn’t want Ten to wonder or worry about him.
Once ze was gone, though, Cody slumped against the wall. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.
“You should go to bed,” Grennson said. “Darrel and I can clean this.”
“I helped make the mess, I should help clean it,” Cody protested.
“No, really,” Darrel added. “Go on. It’s fine, I’ll handle it, you should both go on.” He looked…what was that, ashamed? Confused? Either way, he wasn’t looking directly at Cody, which was perfect as far as Cody was concerned.
“I will help you,” Grennson said smoothly, turning away from Cody, who decided not to complain anymore and slunk back to his room and shut the door.
Fuck, he hurt. It wasn’t a sharp, stabbing pain, but a deep ache that seemed to quiver in his guts, making everything from standing to breathing hard. Cody staggered over to his bed and collapse onto it, thinking rapidly. He couldn’t call the medical unit, he couldn’t, it would be public and everyone would know something was wrong with him. But he couldn’t stop worrying, either. What if it was bad? What if he’d really hurt something?
Cody finally decided on a compromise. He put his hand to the wall, engaged his neural implant and thought, Hermes?
“Cadet Helms. Your biometrics indicate distress.”
I know. Is there any way you can check me out without me having to go to the med unit?
“Such an action is contraindicated by my programming. If you need assistance, you should go to the med unit.”
Cody sighed. I don’t think it’s that bad. I just want to be sure.
“I recommend you take yourself to the med unit and allow them to look at you.”
I don’t want to do that, and I don’t authorize you to contact them on my behalf. Can’t you just take a look?
“It is within my capacity, but only under emergency circumstances.”
This is an emergency circumstance. Scan me, whatever it is you do. I have to keep this quiet, Hermes.
The AI was silent for a moment, then Cody jerked as a light suddenly appeared in the wall. It projected a grid over him for a moment. “Move your body so that it is completely against the surface of the wall.” Cody complied with a grunt, and a moment later he felt warmth along his back.
“Preliminary scans indicate internal bruising, no damage to the skeletal structure or integrity of the organs. This is a preliminary scan only. If you do not get yourself to the med unit within the next twelve hours or worsen in condition, I will be obliged to immediately inform your superiors.”
Oh, what a relief. Cody felt better already. I understand. Please send a message to my sponsor, First Lieutenant Philomela Xavera, informing her of my condition in the morning. She can help me then. And she’d do it discreetly, because she had been the one to lecture Cody on discretion in the first place.
“Understood, Cadet.” Hermes disengaged and Cody felt his neural implant switch to standby again. He lay there for a while, staring blankly at the wall and testing the pain in his stomach and wanting, more than anything, to be with his dads right now. He had been doing so well, he was independent and strong and he could handle this, he could, but right now the thought of Garrett wrapping him up in a hug, or his dad making his favorite meal and sitting down with him to eat while they talked…
Cody couldn’t stop the tears from rising up in his eyes. Fuck, he wasn’t a kid, he couldn’t believe he was acting this way. The need didn’t go away, though, and after a few more minutes of internal debate, Cody reached for his private transmitter. He turned it to audio only, then activated a call to his dads.
The connection pulsed, no response on the other end for long moments. Answer, please answer…
“Cody?” Just hearing his father’s voice made Cody relax. His dad sounded a little out of breath, but Cody didn’t have the energy to bother getting worked up over what could have made him that way. “We weren’t expecting a call from you tonight. What’s happening?”
“Nothing,” Cody said, but he didn’t sound quite right, and his dads knew it.
“What’s wrong, bucko? Why are you upset?”
“I’m not, really. It’s just…it’s been a rough night here,” Cody said.
“Quad mates going after each other again?” Garrett asked.
Cody laughed weakly. “Yeah, they were.” Close enough, anyway. “I just…I don’t know, I wanted to hear you guys. I don’t have a real reason, I just miss you. It’s fine, though. I’m fine.”
“Of course it’s fine, you don’t have to have a reason to call us,” Garrett said before Jonah could get any more worried, and Cody knew he was worried. “Do you have time to listen to us ramble about what we’ve been doing this past week?”
That. That was exactly what Cody wanted, just to close his eyes and listen and pretend everything was normal for a while. “I’ve got time,” he told them, and settled his head against his pillow as his dads started to tell him about Griffin, and pink sand beaches, and the warm heat of two distant, dying suns.