Notes: Another long one, plus lots of explanation, plus…arg, WHY!!! Why do I do this to myself, I’m such a freaking cockblock, arg arg arg. I swear to god, I’m going to give you an explicit scene before this story completely ends if it kills me. It may come in the form of a special semester break posting for the boys, but it’ll happen. Anyway, enjoy.
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty-Five: Onward and Upward, Never Look Back
By the time Nurse Don’t-Fuck-With-Me’s door chime woke them up the next morning, Ten was feeling more sanguine about life in general. It wasn’t that ze had magicked away hir boundless issues with the power of affection and Cody’s copious body heat, but ze hadn’t slept nearly as much as Cody had last night, and had had plenty of time to ruminate. In the hours that ze had spent awake, hir head tucked beneath Cody’s chin, moving gently on the swell of his breaths and soft but definitely present snores, ze had decided that the best way to deal with new trauma was the same way ze’d dealt with old trauma: ignore it unless doing so became completely untenable. That strategy had gotten Ten through the worst disappointments of hir life so far with minimal scarring, so to speak. Ze would get through the rest of them just the same.
Of course, ignoring the trauma didn’t mean that Ten was completely insensible to the things that made hir feel better. Waking up next to Cody was definitely one of those. Not just across the room from him, watching him roll and toss in his sleep, but actually next to him, in the same bed, sharing space, sharing everything. It turned out that Cody was much less mobile when he was sleeping with someone—or maybe that was a side effect of the broken collarbone, but whatever, it was good news as far as Ten was concerned. Cody’s arm across hir shoulders was nice, a pleasant weight rather than a bar holding hir down, and despite the fact that he had morning breath—one of the worst side effects of not being able to use Regen, as far as Ten was concerned—overall he smelled pretty good. Ten wanted to analyze the air molecules, siphon out the things that made up the smell of Cody, classify and codify and see if ze couldn’t isolate what it was that made his scent so—so nice.
“No ‘speriments before breakfast,” Cody muttered, and Ten held back a blush as ze realized ze’d been speaking out loud.
“Don’t try to set an arbitrary timetable to my experiments, you can’t stop science,” Ten replied quickly.
“Mmm…we should get up,” Cody said, then frowned. “Why should we get up? Did she say?”
“Nurse Pain-Before-Pleasure doesn’t believe in explanations,” Ten said, curling a little closer into Cody’s body. If anything, the nurse’s directions made hir more determined to stay even longer in bed. Ze shifted, wondering why hir perch had suddenly become a lot stiffer—oh.
Cody realized what was happening a second after Ten did, and his whole body went rigid, matching his…well. “Um…it just happens in the mornings,” he said sheepishly, his face flushing with heat. He couldn’t beat back blushes the way Ten could.
Ten considered the situation for a moment, then positioned hirself more fully on top of Cody. “You mean it’s not because of me?” ze asked coyly, rubbing hir own hardness down against Cody’s. It had been a long time since Ten had done anything physically pleasurable with anyone, certainly nothing at the Academy other than hir aborted kiss with Cody not so long ago. Ze had tried sex before, all sorts of sex, and ze had decided that apart from using it as a tool to get what ze wanted it wasn’t really hir thing. With Cody, though, Ten found hirself responding to him before ze’d given hirself permission. Hir organs were simple things that responded to simple stimuli, but hir mind…you had to be something interesting to get Ten’s mind involved. And right now all ze could think about was how incredibly good it felt to be touching him like this, to feel like ze had power over Cody not because ze’d planned it that way, but because he wanted hir.
Cody was shy though, he was conservative, there was no way he—
Cody used his good hand to pull Ten down harder even as he rolled his hips up. “It’s definitely because of you now,” he said breathlessly, his brown eyes huge and hungry. “But the nurse is going to be back in here any second, so if we’re going to do something we have to do it fast.”
Oh. Oh, he wanted to… “Okay,” Ten said, almost stammering with how turned on ze suddenly was. “Okay, we can do that, I can absolutely be fast, just—”
The door chime rang. Ten turned hir head and snarled at it. “Go away! Don’t you have some other people to torment with your impossibly bad timing?”
“’Fraid I don’t,” a new voice said, and both of them froze. That wasn’t Nurse All-Business-All-The -Time, that was…
“Oh shit, it’s my dad,” Cody said, covering his flaming face with one hand. “Don’t come in, we’ll be out in a minute!” he called out. “Just…just wait, okay? Please?”
“Well I’m definitely not coming in, bucko. Hustle, though, we’ve got a lot to talk about before you can get back to class.”
“Okay, we’ll be right out.” Cody looked up at Ten with a hunted expression on his face. “Do you think he was using the viewport?”
“I have no idea,” Ten said, both oddly titillated and completely repulsed by the idea of Jonah Helms seeing them in this position.
“I hope not. Shit.” Cody sighed. “I guess we’d better get up and dressed.”
Ten felt something slipping right then, all of the burgeoning more that had been building between them suddenly reduced to a whisper, in danger of vanishing entirely. “Only,” Ten said seriously, making sure ze had Cody’s gaze, “if you promise we can actually do this soon. You’re driving me crazy here, I can’t be held responsible for my actions if you keep throwing yourself at me and then taking yourself away again.”
Cody boggled. “Me…you’re the one who started it!”
“And I’m going to finish it too, if you’ll let me.” Ten fluttered hir eyelashes mock-seductively, and when Cody laughed the tension between them relaxed, but kept the hint of promise instead of letting it fade away.
“Okay, yes. I promise to stop tormenting you with my sexiness and let you have your way with me as soon as humanly possible,” Cody said. “I really, really want to touch you too,” he added, and damn it, now Ten really was blushing, how did Cody do that to hir, it was utterly infuriating. “You have to get off of me if we’re going to get dressed,” he said a moment later.
It was odd to get ready to face the day while still feeling so strange, somewhere between agitated and effervescent. It was even odder to leave the room a step behind Cody and watch him practically fall into his father’s arms, all awkwardness gone in the wake of the incredible affection they shared. That…that had to be normal, didn’t it, that sort of tenderness between a parent and their child? Ten had always thought that sort of sentiment was nothing but a biological urge that some procreators were able to conquer faster than others, setting their offspring free to fend for themselves, but apparently it persisted for most people. Parents kept on loving their children. It was obvious with Cody, it was clearly there with Grennson, even though he was adopted…even Darrell, who never talked about his parents, was still in touch with them all the time. Was Ten really the aberration here? What had gone wrong with hir situation, ze wondered. Was it that hir parents had simply lacked that instinctual love, or was it that Ten had done something early on to lose it?
“Hey there, Ten,” Cody’s dad said, and then all of a sudden Ten was drawn into a hug of hir own, and oh no, Jonah smelled a lot like Cody, a few more scents—hints of dust and oil, coffee and ozone—and Ten gripped him back hard, stupid, awful tears springing into hir eyes for absolutely no reason at all. Ze didn’t want to let go and Jonah didn’t make hir, just held on for a minute before relaxing a bit and turning them toward another room. “C’mon, we’re runnin’ a little late for the meeting,” he said.
Inside the other room were Darrell and Grennson, Grennson looking decidedly worse for wear but also himself again, and Cody being the mushy ball of fondness that he was, he was over next to them in an instant, hugging and asking questions and so concerned it was enough to make a normal person nauseous from the sweetness. Ten would have gone over hirself, if ze could have pulled away from Jonah. Ze couldn’t quite manage that, though, so they came to hir.
“I’m very pleased your mind is your own again,” Grennson said, leaning in and pressing his cheek against Ten’s in the Perel version of a hug.
“My sentiments exactly,” Ten said. “But look at you, you look utterly ridiculous. How long does it take for those quills to grow back in? Are you going to have to pull the burnt ones and just let them start over from scratch? What exactly are they composed of, did they act as conductors for the neural net or was the effect more like—”
“Oh shut up,” Darrell said, but there was no bite to it. “Clearly you’re feeling better, your mouth is already going at lightspeed.”
“Too fast for your brain to catch up, is that what you’re saying?” Ten snarked comfortably.
“If you could all be seated, we’ll get this conference started,” Admiral Liang said from where he sat at the other end of a small rectangular table. There were six empty chairs around it, and Ten wondered why until a hologram of a Perel suddenly appeared. Ah, Grennson’s parent.
“Good morning,” the Perel said in standard, then purred something at his son that made Grennson smile. They all found a seat, Ten shoehorned between Jonah and Cody in a way that felt very, very nice, and then Admiral Liang began to speak.
“I’m sure you have a lot of ideas about what’s happened to you over the past few days, and why. I probably can’t answer every question, but I can clear a few things up for you.”
Ten rolled hir eyes. “As though we need you to. Obviously we were targeted by a small group of people under the direct command of either President Alexander or one of his close confidants, probably because of Cody and Grennson but mostly Cody because he’s the son of one of the men who’s causing problems for Alexander on Liberty, and Pamela was a spy and assassin who was supposed to take Cody out but got carried away trying to blame things on Kyle while getting the job done because I’m thinking there are some serious issues between Kyle and his brother, probably having to do with their father, and Pamela is lucky she’d dead, because I’d kill her otherwise, and I bet it was Cody’s Politics and Policies professor who was helping her, wasn’t it? Colonel Friehoff? Because he was a biased idiot and also had a background in technology enhancement and probably knew how to help her cover up her tracks. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I? I’m so right.”
Admiral Liang stared at Ten for a long moment before smiling. “Absolutely correct. We’re quite fortunate that you haven’t taken over the universe yet.”
“As if I would, I don’t care about ruling over people, people are idiots,” Ten said, although ze felt a little warmed by the regard. “I care about ruling over science.”
“And you may yet. Yes. Colonel Friehoff was collaborating with Pamela Wu, along with a few other people in our technical division. It’s how we lost sight of her time and again on the security feeds. She was responsible for the attacks on Marcys and Valero—”
“Where is Valero?” Darrell interjected, looking concerned.
“Valero was apparently mind-controlled into damaging your bike, Cody,” Admiral Liang said, and Ten felt Cody shudder a little at the memory. “And afterward, she was directed by Pamela to set herself on fire. Fortunately the mind resists such attempts to destroy it, but she was still badly wounded. The med staff has had to regrow some of her limbs, which is why you haven’t seen her around. As for Marcys…”
“Why attack him?” Cody asked. “I can understand Valero, I guess, but Marcys barely knew any of us. He didn’t really have anything to do with this at all.”
“The day he was attacked, Marcys was testing a new type of camouflage,” Admiral Liang said, and Cody nodded. “It works beautifully on normal people, people who Regen, whether or not they’re also psychic. You were inside Hephaestus Tower that day, and Marcys was sitting outside. He saw Pamela approach the building and attach a device to it that would have illegally given her access. She didn’t see him, and didn’t know he was there to sense. Psychic power generally needs to be directed to have an effect. He confronted her, she attacked him, and soon thereafter you found where she had dragged his body.”
“This girl seems most disturbed,” the Perel—Ferran, that was it—commented.
“She isn’t typical of our cadets, I assure you,” Admiral Liang said. “Nevertheless, changes will have to be made to staffing and more rigorous protocols put in place for cadet oversight. I have a great deal to do over the semester break, and once you four have taken your final exams—which, yes,” he said, looking straight at Ten who had just opened hir mouth to object, “you do still have to take, you’ll all need to leave campus for a time.”
Cody frowned. “I’m supposed to be on the year-round program, though. It’s part of the operative training program.”
“I’m not certain that training to be an operative is the best future for you, Cody.” Admiral Liang held up a quelling hand. “It’s not a criticism, it’s merely an observation. There’s more possibility in your future than covert affairs, and I’m certainly not going to make you leave just because you’re following an atypical path for a natural at the Academy.”
“I’m supposed to be year-round as well,” Ten said, hoping it would make Cody feel a little less isolated.
“I’m supposed to go home,” Darrell mumbled unhappily.
“My plan has always been to bring Grennson back to Perelan for the duration of his break from the Academy,” Ferran said. “I have spoken with my husband and our matriarch, and they have agreed to extend an invitation to Perelan to the rest of you. You would all come home with us for your break. We have never had so many young humans in our clan before, but,” Ferran smiled, “I think you will be very welcome.”
“It would also give you a measure of safety, as well as making a statement of inclusiveness,” Admiral Liang continued. “Perelan is well protected and keeps very exacting track of every foreigner on the planet. Not to mention, this is an opportunity afforded to very few humans.”
“It’s okay with me,” Jonah said when Cody looked at him. “And with Garrett. Neither of us care to take you back to Liberty right now, way things are there.”
And then both of them looked at Ten, who—what, was this actually a question? They were really in doubt? “Of course I’m going, are you crazy? The number of experiments I could do on the atmosphere alone, we have to bring my lab along, is there room on your ship for my lab?” ze asked Ferran, who smiled.
“I’m sure we can make room for your equipment,” he promised, and Ten felt hir mind begin to soar with ideas, that familiar high of possibility and discovery. This was going to be amazing, incredible, ze could already think of a dozen experiments ze wanted to do and oh, now ze would have to read every scientific paper ze could find about Perelan, possibly combine them into some sort of meta so they’d be more easily searchable, and oh shit, ze needed to be at hir workstation now, and where was hir tab, and—
“Steady there,” Jonah said gently, and Ten realized ze was vibrating under his arm.
“Sorry,” ze said.
“S’okay. Just don’t get carried away quite yet.”
“You still have exams, all of you,” Admiral Liang reminded them. “There will be an increased security presence in your hall and in your classes for the rest of the semester. If people ask you questions, either tell them it’s classified or direct them to me. Get through your final week, keep this information to yourself, and be careful. I don’t anticipate any more problems but, very clearly, I’m not prescient.”
“What’s going to happen to Kyle?” Cody asked suddenly. “Are you really going to send him back to his brother?”
“Kyle’s already gone,” Admiral Liang said grimly. “It’s out of my hands now, I’m afraid.” He shared a look with Jonah that Ten wasn’t exactly sure how to interpret. “Now. Back to your quad. Captain Helms will escort you, he’s going to be staying at the Academy until you leave for Perelan.”
Damn. Getting some alone time with Cody suddenly seemed like much more of a challenge. Still, Ten couldn’t stop hir feelings of excitement from welling up. Ze had Cody to look forward to, science to look forward to, even time with Jonah to look forward to.
Things were definitely looking up.