Notes: Electrical crisis averted! Writing done! Swords sheathed, at least for the moment. Prepare for détente, ladies and gentlemen. Things get wacky from here on out.
Title: The Academy
Part Ten: You Might Be The Last To Know, But At Least You Know
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that something serious was happening behind Cody and Ten’s closed door. Darrel tried not to look at it, but he couldn’t help glancing over whenever the volume rose loud enough to be heard through the walls. They were supposed to be soundproof, but apparently no soundproofing had yet been invented that could withstand Ten.
“I wouldn’t worry,” Grennson said from the other side of their newly requisitioned kitchen table, where he sat and sipped on the spicy tea of his world. It was sweet and peppery and Darrel was trying hard not to develop an addiction for the stuff, but Grennson always poured him a cup in the mornings and it tasted so much better than coffee or bissap juice.
“I’m not worried,” Darrel said quickly, and it was such a lie that he wasn’t surprised when Grennson raised one eyebrow. It was a very human expression of disbelief, and Darrel wondered if he’d learned it from Jason Kim. “Fine, I’m a little worried. Who’s Ten yelling at?”
“I believe it’s Cody’s sponsor.”
“Why is she here?”
The quills on Grennson’s back fluffed up a little, like a full-spinal shrug. “I’ve no idea, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon.”
Darrel frowned. “Why would they tell us anything?”
“Because we’re their quad mates.”
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” Darrel objected. “All being quad mates does is put us into close proximity with each other.”
“Proximity is an important part of forging emotional bonds,” Grennson said.
“It’s not a guarantee, though.”
“My human father is very fond of saying ‘There are no guarantees in life,’” Grennson replied tranquilly. “He also says ‘True families are made, not born.’ Given that he chose to make his family almost entirely out of another race on an alien planet, I think that second saying is rather apt.”
“You can’t get rid of the family you’re born with,” Darrel said dully. He’d listened to two messages from his grandmother already that morning, one about why he wasn’t the captain of the paraball team yet, one about his “disciplinary issues” with regards to Ten. She’d let him know that she’d be calling in another fifteen minutes, presumably so she could reiterate her problems with Darrel to his face.
“No,” Grennson agreed. “But you can minimize their impact if it has a negative effect on you, and I don’t think I’m wrong in assuming that your family’s effect on you is rarely positive.”
“And you think all of us being friends is going to fix that?” Darrel knew he was being harsh, but he’d barely slept at all last night, guilt and anger warring in him until he’d twisted so much that his blankets became a prison, wrapping him up tight.
“I think it’s a good place to start,” Grennson said. “I certainly enjoy being your friend, I don’t see why Ten and Cody won’t.”
“Ten hates me.”
“No,” Grennson corrected him. “Ten takes advantage of your weaknesses in order to elicit a particular reaction from you. Very few people have ever treated hir with kindness, and now ze lashes out at others before they can hurt hir first. If the anger and disappointment comes as a direct result of something Ten has done, rather than what ze is, Ten can understand and cope with it. You really aren’t dissimilar at all,” Grennson added.
“I am nowhere near as rude,” Darrel said.
“True.” Grennson sipped his tea and said nothing else, and after a moment Darrel couldn’t bear the silence.
“What else do you want to say that you aren’t saying?”
“There’s nothing else I want to say right now,” Grennson replied with a smile. “How does the saying go… ‘Silence is golden’?”
“If you have a problem with me you can tell me,” Darrel pressed. “I want you to tell me.”
“I’m not the one who has problems with you. You’re always perfectly nice to me. You’re my friend, and I value that friendship very much.” He said it with the sort of earnestness that made Darrel want to shy away. “And that—you see, that emotion, I feel it. I feel all of your emotions, I can’t help it, and I know when I’m making you uncomfortable. So I won’t.”
“Yeah, but…” But how was Darrel supposed to improve if Grennson wasn’t telling him what he was doing wrong?
“I’m your friend, not your nanny,” Grennson murmured. “Or your grandmother. I’m not here to tell you all your faults and demand that you fix them. Change isn’t something you can force on someone.”
“That doesn’t keep people from trying.”
“No, but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with it either.”
Their conversation was cut short by the abrupt opening of Cody and Ten’s door. Cody’s sponsor came out, red-faced and flustered, and stared at both of them for a long moment. “He’d better be right about the two of you,” she said finally. “You better not let him down, or so help me…” Her voice trailed off, like she couldn’t quite catch her breath, and then she straightened up and walked out of the quad without another word.
Darrel turned to look at Grennson. “What was that?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Grennson replied, looking worried. “I’ve been trying not to feel what’s going on in there, but it’s hard not to notice someone else’s fear.”
“Fear of what?”
“I can’t tell you,” Grennson said, and he looked sad about that. “I’m not supposed to know. It’s a secret.”
“My secret,” Cody said from the door. He looked a little worse for wear, and Ten was standing behind him and scowling at him but not, as of yet, saying anything, which was a miracle as far as Darrel was concerned. “I should have guessed you already knew it,” Cody continued, looking at Grennson with a little smile.
“You can trust me to keep your confidence,” Grennson said seriously.
Ten huffed and pushed gently at Cody’s shoulder. “Get out of the way, already, why don’t you go sit down?” Cody complied, and Darrel took in the stiffness of his back and the little hunch in his shoulders and realized that Cody was still injured.
“Why haven’t you healed yet?” he asked, standing up and pushing his chair toward Cody. The table had been replaced fast enough, but several of their chairs had been broken as well, and apparently the office of requisitions found them harder to come by. “Do you need a Regen boost?”
“Don’t you think if that would have worked, I’d have already tried it?” Ten snapped. “Are you as blind when you play paraball as you are with people?”
Darrel bit back the insult that hovered on the end of his tongue. You don’t have to say anything, Ten’s just trying to get a rise out of you. The anger and worry he’d been fighting with all night sharpened in his chest like a knife, though, and Ten was such an easy target, ze could take it, ze was asking for it…
“Don’t be an asshole,” Cody said tiredly. To Darrel’s shock, Ten backed down, crossing hir arms and looking sulkily at the floor. Cody sighed, then reached out and took Ten’s hand. “And don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad, I just hope you know what you’re doing,” Ten said, sounding ominous. But ze didn’t try to take back hir hand. Cody glanced over at Darrel and grinned. It was slightly pained, but genuine.
“I guess you’re the only one out of the loop.”
“What loop?” Darrel demanded.
“Mine, I guess. I’m…okay, so…shit. I guess the easiest thing to do is just come out and say it.” Cody tilted his head back toward the ceiling and exhaled heavily, then said, “I’m a natural.”
“A natural what?”
“For fuck’s sake—”
“Ten, c’mon, please,” Cody entreated, and Ten shut up again. That was more astonishing than anything Cody’s said so far. A natural…
“I’m a genetic natural,” Cody continued. “My body won’t accept Regen. It’s hard to get it to accept a lot of medical treatments. I’m going to age at a normal human rate, which means that if I’m lucky I’ll live to see a little over a century. I don’t heal as fast as you do, which is why I’m still feeling the knee I took to the stomach yesterday. I was accepted to the Academy with the idea that eventually I would go into covert operations, so it’s kind of a big deal that I’m telling you this.” His dark blue eyes were fixed firmly on Darrel’s face, gauging his reaction. “No one else can know. Ten found out by accident this morning, and I guess Grennson’s known for a while…”
“I wasn’t completely sure until last night,” Grennson said. “But I did suspect something like this.”
“I was supposed to keep it a secret,” Cody said. “But I wanted you guys to know. I would have told you from the beginning if I could have.”
“Because you have no sense of self preservation and are a terrible liar,” Ten interjected. “We need to know if only to help you keep your cover. Which we will,” he added, staring at Darrel like he could bore holes through Darrel’s brain if he just tried hard enough. “Right?”
This was…confidential. This was majorly, majorly confidential, there was no reason Darrel should know this. He wasn’t brilliant like Ten or empathic like Grennson, he wouldn’t have figured it out on his own. He shouldn’t know this. He shouldn’t be part of some secret society, like they were a special little club, like they were—fuck, family.
Darrel still hadn’t said anything, and Cody was starting to look concerned. “Darrel? Will you help me out here?”
Fuck this. Fuck this, Cody shouldn’t be relying on Darrel for anything, didn’t he know how bad Darrel was at this? At everything? He could ask for a transfer, someone else could take his place here, someone who really knew how to be a friend and keep a confidence…
Darrel’s comm unit rang. Mechanically, he pulled the caller information up on the table top. Grandmother. Right, she had an appointment to tell him how disappointed she was. How unlike his father he was. How hard he needed to try to live up to that impossible, unreachable ideal.
Grennson’s hand on top of his made Darrel jump. He looked up at the Perel, but Grennson didn’t say anything, just smiled.
It was too late to keep from disappointing his family. Maybe, though, Darrel might manage not to disappoint his quad. He turned his comm unit to DNR, cutting off his grandmother’s call, and brushed her caller ID away. “You can count on me,” he said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“You’d better not,” Ten sniped, but Cody just grinned again.
“Thank you.” Darrel felt himself start to blush and made himself act nonchalant, shrugging slightly.
“Yay, we’re all on board,” Ten cut in. “Hurray for the Four Space Rangers. Now we just have to figure out why we’ve been turned into a unit, and life will be lovely.”
“You think there’s a reason we were put together?” Grennson asked.
“For the umpteenth time, yes, seriously all of you need to meet Admiral Liang and figure this shit out for yourselves, the man is brilliant, nothing happens by chance, are you honestly that naïve? Yes.” Ten said.
“Why, though?” Darrel asked. “What are we supposed to do together?”
They all stared at each other for a long moment. “That,” Cody said finally, “is a really, really good question.”