Notes: Oh man. Here we go. Gauntlets thrown. Hearts laid bare. Maaaybe…or maybe not, we just don’t know yet. Nothing is certain, but at least stuff is happening! Enjoy, guys J
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Four: Actions, Reactions and Explosions
Cody woke up the next day feeling like he’d barely slept at all. His eyes were gritty and his brain seemed to pulse in his skull, not exactly a headache but clear evidence that he wasn’t as on point as he should be, not after a week’s worth of worrying and looking over his shoulder. He felt simultaneously exhausted and twitchy, like he should be running. Away or to something, Cody didn’t know, but the feeling put him on edge.
He got up and showered, then checked in with Hermes to see if he had any messages. One from Phil, telling him not to come by the lab today—she was spending all her extra time with the therapy staff, helping Marcys relearn his own field of study. He’d lost about five years’ worth of memories, as well as a number of physical abilities that were strangely slow to recover. Apparently the device that had taken him out had been shockingly thorough in its attack on his brain. Cody frowned, remembering the strange criss-crossing lines on Marcys’ face. Maybe he should talk about it with Ten…although he had the feeling that the fewer people who knew about the details of the attack, the happier Admiral Liang would be, but since Kyle already knew, it couldn’t hurt to tell one more person, could it?
The next message was actually from Kyle, apologizing for not being able to go riding that morning with Cody, but something personal had come up that he needed to attend to immediately. The warm words rolled through Cody’s mind, kind and genuinely regretful, and Cody smiled. That was…well, it wasn’t great, but it was at least understandable. After all, Kyle had family on Liberty too. There was probably a lot of stuff going on there that he needed to know about.
Not going riding, though…the more he thought about it, the more Cody knew that he needed a distraction today. Something to take his mind off of everything that was happening to him, everything that might threaten his friends and family. Somewhere very few other people ever bothered to go, and that was the race track. An hour or two riding around dodging and spinning at high speeds would make him feel better. And if he was lucky, he wouldn’t even have to go alone.
Cody got dressed, pulled on his protective gear and headed out into the common room. Grennson and Darrell were gone—not surprising, it was already ten in the morning, he had definitely overslept—but Ten was still there, standing on a chair and fiddling with something up high on the wall. “What are you doing?”
Ten jumped and the chair beneath hir wavered, but by the time Cody got to hir ze’d steadied hirself. “Give me a little warning before shouting at me next time!” Ten said huffily.
“Sorry,” Cody replied, patting Ten’s calf apologetically. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I didn’t think you meant to,” Ten said, turning back to the wall. Ze had a multi-tool in hir hand, and was currently using the magnetic setting to screw something deep into the wall.
“What is that?”
Ten sighed. “Nothing you need to worry about.”
“I’m not worrying, I’m just curious as to why you’re putting holes in our walls. Technically that’s not allowed, you know.”
“When have you ever cared about that?”
“I don’t really,” and Ten nodded, but Cody forged ahead, “but this is a common area, not our room. If you’re putting something in the common area then it’s going to affect all of us, and I’d like to know what it is.”
“It’s something that will keep you safer.”
“That isn’t an answer.”
“Can’t you just trust me?” Ten snapped.
“Can’t you just trust me?” Cody replied, just as snappish for once, and Ten’s eyes widened. Cody knew he wasn’t acting like himself, but damn it, he didn’t feel like himself, he felt tired and stressed and desperate to take his mind off of everything. “I don’t want to argue,” he said after a moment. “We can…look, let’s just forget about this for now. I want to go riding today, and I want you to come along.” When Ten looked like ze was about to object, Cody continued, “You said you would months ago and you still haven’t, and I’ve been saving my special fuel for you. We can go so fast, you won’t believe it,” he coaxed with a smile. “And I’ve got spare gear for you to wear, so you won’t get your clothes dirty or mess up your hair.”
“You really think I have time for this?”
“I think you should make the time,” Cody said seriously. “Because otherwise you’re going to burn yourself out on whatever you’re doing and go and do something else and then I won’t see you for days.” Ten just stared at him, and Cody stared back for a minute before admitting defeat. “Fine. Stay here. I’ll go by myself.” He headed into the kitchen and grabbed one of Grennson’s last efforts at baking, which tasted too strongly of cinnamon but was still pretty good, then headed for the door.
“Stop!” Ten spoke up just as Cody was about to step out into the hall. “You don’t have to go by yourself. I’ll go, just stop pouting.”
“I wasn’t pouting!” Cody protested with a smile.
“It was a sneak-pout wrapped in indignation, I know exactly how you work,” Ten said, hopping down from the chair. “I said I’d go, I’ll go. But for no more than an hour, I have twelve very important things to do today.”
“Twelve that can’t wait, dozens more in the background,” Ten clarified, and Cody nodded.
“Let’s get you dressed, and then we’ll go.”
Getting Ten dressed meant putting up with fifteen minutes of complaints at how the protective gear fit, how unstylish it was and how much Ten hoped that no one saw hir in it, but eventually they made it to the track. Cody went to where his bike was locked up and keyed the compartment open, then opened the safe in the back to take out the bottle of fuel that Wyl had given him. He took out the old mix and installed the new, then turned the bike on, making sure everything was functioning right. Cody could hear the change in the sound the engine was making, and he grinned happily. “She likes it,” he said, patting his hoverbike’s seat.
Ten didn’t look so happy. “This thing is clearly a deathtrap, and you’ve just made it more lethal. And you’re pleased about it.” Ze glared at Cody. “Something is very wrong with you.”
“It’s not a deathtrap,” Cody said mildly, getting into the front seat and putting on his helmet. “The gyroscopes keep everything moving the right way, and it’s got plenty of safety measures. Just hold onto me and you’ll be fine.”
Ten raised an eyebrow. “And just trust you to keep me alive?”
“Do not make me regret this,” Ten warned, but ze accepted Cody’s help in swinging hir leg over the back of the bike.
“You won’t regret this,” Cody promised, and he gently guided the bike over to the course layout panel, swiping his hand to register him as the user and get it running. He left the course as simple as possible, partially so he wouldn’t scare Ten and partially because he actually didn’t know how many tricks he could really pull off at such high speeds, then watched as the holograms sprang up in the distance.
“No,” Ten said, but ze had hir helmet on, so Cody took no as “yes” and revved the bike, then started them moving.
Ten’s arms squeezed his middle so tight that Cody felt like ze’d leave bruises, but the exhilaration from finally riding blurred the discomfort into nothing but breathless anticipation. He took the first run around the track at lower speeds, making sure he could jump and swerve around the obstacles, then started to go faster. The ground blurred, the course raced by and Cody laughed, feeling absolute joy. This was just what he needed. He spun them around holographic pillars and over fences, turning so hard on one that the bike spun an extra rotation before the stabilizers were able to stop it, but it felt amazing. He urged the bike on, faster and faster, lost in the adrenaline until Ten yelled, “It’s too hot!”
“What? What is?” Cody asked, slowing slightly as they took another curve.
“The engine! It’s too hot, it’s going to burn through my pants!”
Cody frowned. The engine shouldn’t be overheating, he’d made sure the cooling system was compatible with the new fuel bottle. “Ten—”
“Cody, stop the bike, it’s going to—” Whatever else ze was going to say was lost to a scream when the entire engine block suddenly burst into flame, sending the bike into a tailspin. Ten was standing on the back seat, holding desperately to Cody’s shoulders as ze tried to avoid the flames, and Cody knew they had to abandon the bike but he couldn’t slow her down, the controls were compromised, shorted out when the engine first blew—what could he—
Fuck, he hoped this would work.
“Hold on tight to me!” Cody shouted, then slammed his palm hard against his chest even as he shoved off to the side, clear of the flaming hoverbike but careening at tremendous speed toward the ground. He held Ten as close as he could, and he actually felt when the inertial dampening field expanded around them, making their initial strike against the ground jarring instead of deadly. They bounced and hit again, and again, and on the fourth rebound the dampener cut out and they hit with enough force to snap Cody’s head back into Ten’s. The helmet absorbed the worst of it, and then they were rolling and finally they rolled to a stop.
“Cody!” Ten let go of him and pulled of hir helmet, then got to work on his. “Are you all right? Cody? Are you okay?”
“I…” He wanted to say yes, but his head was swimming, and everything seemed to hurt. He heard a tremendous boom to their right and felt the wave of heat, and when he looked over he knew that he’d just lost his bike. Wyl’s gift to him, he’d barely even broken it in and now it was gone…that hurt worse than anything else, and the last thing Cody recognized through the agony he felt was relief that he was blacking out, so he wouldn’t have to see any more right now.
He was done.
Ten liked to think hirself immune to panic, but there was no denying the fact that when Cody’s eyes rolled back in his head, ze had freaked out. Just a little, just for a moment before ze used hir implant to call out to Hermes, but if ze never experienced such heart-rending terror again, it would be too soon. The med team got there shortly, and Ten was carted off to the infirmary along with Cody, despite protesting that ze was fine, and ze really was. Whatever Cody had used to slow their fall it had worked brilliantly, despite their speed. What few sore spots ze had were already fading away, courtesy of Regen, and after a brief inspection by one of the Academy doctors, Ten was left alone to wait and find out if Cody was all right.
Ze could have called their quad mates. Ze almost wanted to, but Ten held back. There was too much to think about right now to deal with their cloying concern as well, and it was already so hard to think. Every time ze shut hir eyes ze saw Cody, pale and trembling in the wake of the explosion, and Ten couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if ze hadn’t gone with him today. The engine was set far enough back that it was possible that Cody wouldn’t have even noticed the additional heat until the entire thing exploded, with him on it. Without a passenger to warn him, without the device he’d used to slow them, without Ten being there to call the med team…which was strange, ze shouldn’t have had to do that, but when ze’d asked, the doctor had only told her that there had been a hiccup in Hermes’ coverage of the area. A hiccup. Right.
Ten was extremely resentful of the fact that Admiral Liang got to go in and talk to Cody first after the doctors said he was out of danger, but he was the admiral, and rank was rank at the Academy. Ze waited impatiently, practically hopping from foot to foot until finally Liang came back out, somber but understanding. “He’s not badly hurt,” he told Ten. “A lot of bruising, and his collarbone dislocated, so one of his arms will have to be immobilized for a while. I think you took the worst of the initial hit, which all things considered is quite good.” Ah, of course the admiral knew about Cody’s status as a natural. “He’s more physically and emotionally exhausted than anything,” he continued. “Go easy on him, Cadet.”
“Yes sir,” Ten said, surprising hirself with hir immediate agreement. Admiral Liang moved out of the way and Ten practically ran into Cody’s room, stopping right next to the bed he was sitting up on, his back leaned against the wall. He was staring straight ahead, not looking at Ten, not looking at anything, and that just wouldn’t do.
Ten got onto the bed and straddled Cody’s legs, filling the vacancy in front of him. Ze set hir hands on his chest, tentatively, surprised at how cold his skin felt through the filmy infirmary clothes. “Hey.”
“Hey.” His voice was toneless.
“You’re going to be okay.”
“So I hear.”
Ten frowned. “And I’m also fine, thanks for asking.”
“I’m glad you’re fine,” Cody said, finally looking at hir. “I’m sorry about today.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“I should have checked the hookup better, I should have run a diagnostic on the bike before I took you with me. Now,” and here his voice finally choked a bit, “now she’s gone. I ruined her. Wyl made her for me, he put so much work into her and now it’s all wasted.”
“Oh no.” If Ten knew anything, ze knew this. The surveillance blip, the strategic nature of the sabotage, everything ze now knew about Kyle Alexander… “That wasn’t your fault.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“How can you say that?” Cody asked, his voice still dull and hopeless. “How can you know?” He seemed sunk in despair, so miserable that nothing Ten could say would break him out of it. Ze hated seeing him like this, hated it with a passion, almost as much as ze loved—well, that was an idea. Maybe not hir best, but anything to snap Cody out of his fugue. Even now, purple bruises marring one cheek, his left arm held tight to his chest, he was so…irresistible, and Ten was so tired of resisting.
Gathering hir courage, ze leaned forward, closed hir eyes and kissed Cody Helms.