Notes: Not quite the last episode, but close. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty more planned for the boys, but all good things must come to an end at some point. Life continues to be epically busy, but I don’t think I’ll fall behind again. Enjoy, darlins.
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty-Six: Tying Up Loose Ends
The worst thing about going back to class wasn’t the questions, it was the staring.
Questions were something that Cody could have dealt with. He knew how to talk to people, he knew how to prevaricate, he knew how to tell them something without really giving them anything—years with Garrett had ensured that Cody could handle challenging conversations. The staring, though…that he wasn’t so good at dealing with.
Cody didn’t have enhanced hearing, but even he couldn’t help picking up a few snatches of conversation as he walked by. “Did you hear—I thought it was an accident—What happened to Alexander—Have you seen Valero—Pamela is dead, he—Maybe lovers, or maybe—What do you think really happened?”
Cody just walked by, making his way from final exam to final exam and doing his best to ignore his classmates. Just a few more days and he’d leave all this behind for a while, and he was so, so ready for that. He was disappointed he wouldn’t get to see Garrett or Miles or Claudia and the girls before he left but, as his dad had told him several times, there was no way this side of Hell they were letting him near Liberty right now.
“Ain’t gonna happen, bucko,” his dad said, not without a sigh of commiseration when Cody’s face fell. “I know you want to see them, but they aren’t coming here and you definitely aren’t going there. When you get back from Perelan we’ll see what we can do about a reunion, but for now you’re gonna have to make do with me.”
Cody frowned exaggeratedly. “I guess that’s okay, since I can’t get anything better.”
“Watch it, kid,” his dad had growled at him, then pulled him close and ruffled his hair before Cody could escape. They had laughed a little, and things had felt almost normal for a while.
Of course, nothing was really normal. What the general population at the Academy did know was that their quad was making a special trip to Perelan as part of a goodwill delegation. No one knew about the attack on Grennson, he was wearing a very good holographic emitter to hide the damage to his quills. So even if Kyle had stayed and Pamela’s death could have been covered up, they would have been the objects of mass attention. As it was, though, that attention was a lot sharper than it would have been, fueled by distress over Kyle Alexander’s seeming assassination of another cadet and the silences that all of them were forced to uphold.
Things weren’t perfectly easy between the four of them, either. Grennson was…well, clingy was the best way Cody had to describe it. He stayed closer to Darrell than ever before, and always had to know where Cody and Ten were. He cooked and baked and kept himself busy, but there was a tightness around his enormous eyes that hadn’t been there before, an indicator of emotional exhaustion that Cody couldn’t alleviate in any way other than letting Grennson coddle him.
Darrell was probably doing the best. He’d suffered the least at Pamela’s hands, and he still looked the same as ever. Things weren’t wonderful with his family, Cody knew, but he wasn’t letting that stop him from coming to Perelan with them. Moreover, Darrell was an absolute rock for Grennson. The empathic bond between them grew stronger day by day, and Darrell seemed to take it completely in stride. Cody could feel the edges of a similar connection between him and Grennson, nothing more than errant feelings of anxiety that he knew didn’t belong to him, faint but disconcerting. It had to be much more intense for Darrell, but he weathered it all stoically, and always had a smile for Grennson that soothed the Perel’s tension. He and Cody talked about it a few times, the strangeness of their situation, the newness of his bond.
“I don’t mind it,” Darrell confessed as they sat together on the edge of the paraball field. The sport had been put on indefinite suspension following their team captain’s arrest. “I know this is probably going to sound conceited, but I kind of like having something that’s just…uniquely mine, I guess. Something that was never my father’s, something my family doesn’t expect. And it’s not like it’s hard to be best friends with Grennson, after all.”
“Do you think this is…I mean, the only other time this sort of thing has happened was with his parents, right? And you’re not…”
“Not interested that way, no,” Darrell agreed. “But his matriarch thinks this is probably the result of being isolated from his own kind and needing a surrogate support system. It’s not about romantic love, it’s about friendship. Grennson has made his own family here, and we’re it.”
“Huh.” Cody thought about his own family, so far-flung and dislocated, and wondered how bad the distance would feel if there was actually an empathic bond to stretch and sever between them. “I’m glad we can help, then.”
If Darrell was coping well and Grennson was a little desperate, Ten was downright driven. Ze was back to ignoring the world, insisted that ze should be allowed to take hir finals in isolation since ze was clearly still suffering from the trauma of being controlled by a psychic sociopath, how could you expect hir to just waltz through the crowds here without being scarred for life, are you insane? So ze knocked all hir tests out in one day, then spent the rest of the time poring over data from the coronet, muttering to hirself and occasionally coming out of hir room to badger a very sheepish Bartholomew or eat a meal forced on hir by Grennson or Jonah. Ze was a lot better at coming when Jonah asked, actually, despite hir intense new interest in empathic bonds and the differences and similarities between them and psychic interference.
Every day was spent locked in their room at hir little lab, but every night Ten spent in Cody’s bed. They didn’t really do anything, much to Cody’s consternation, but it still felt good to be wrapped up in Ten, who seemed to know just how to hold him to keep his collarbone from hurting, and who counted his heartbeats and shaped the numbers with hir lips. “Later,” Ten promised, kissing Cody’s shoulder and curling in ever closer. “When we’re actually alone, without your dad sleeping on the couch and Grennson keeping such close emotional tabs on us. The only person I want to be sharing an orgasm with anytime soon is you, thanks very much.”
“You get that he might not stop anytime soon, right?” Cody asked with a sigh.
“Yes, but he also won’t be so distraught in the near future. Trust me, I’m monitoring this, I know exactly how strong Grennson’s connections are and they’re already tapering off a little.”
“I guess I’ll survive.”
“If a stupid human boy couldn’t survive not having sex every now and then, one half of the binaries would have murdered the other half for being insatiable bastards long ago,” Ten muttered sleepily. “Now stop talking, you’re messing up my count.”
The night before the Perel delegation was set to arrive and whisk them away, Jonah took Cody out to dinner in town. They had some distant bodyguards, but they were discreet enough that Cody almost felt like he and his dad were actually alone. They ended up at a posh place that was so outside of something Jonah would normally have chosen that Cody actually said, “You’re kidding, right?”
“Not my choice, kiddo,” his dad mumbled. “Just—bear with me for a minute.” They introduced themselves to the maître-de, who led them to a private room deep within the labyrinthine depths of the restaurant. It had a crystalline theme that made Cody’s head spin a little, there were so many reflections on all sides. The private room was fortunately a little less sparkly, enough for Cody to tell that someone was already waiting for them there. He knew who it was even before the man could stand up and throw off his hood, and rushed forward and into his arms, feeling breathless and strange and young and so, so grateful.
“Hey Cody,” his dad said, sounding a little breathless himself, and it felt like forever since Cody had seen him, so long, too long, he was close to his quad mates and he was fine, really, just fine after everything that had happened, but Garrett was his dad, and he was here, and he had both of them here and it was really just—
“Experimental transit technology and a very brief window, darling,” Garrett said, pressing a kiss to his head. “But I thought that even if it was just long enough for dinner, it would be better than nothing.”
“Yes,” Cody said emphatically, relaxing a little more when he felt Jonah’s hands on his shoulders, heard the brief kiss that passed between his parents. It was so much better than nothing.
After his last call with his grandparents, Darrell had known better than to be in the same room as Grennson for a while. They were insistent that he come home; he was just as insistent that he would be going to Perelan, and the call had ended with his grandmother tears and his grandfather telling him if he was going to be this way, he could just not bother coming home at all for the forseeable future.
Which, fine. Darrell was tired of forcing himself into a mold that had never fit him very well, tired of trying to be his father and failing again and again. He was finally figuring out how to be himself, and thanks to his trust and his Legacy status he had options for taking care of himself, in case they really decided to cut him off. He almost hoped they would. If his mother didn’t care enough to even speak to him while he was calling home, then he didn’t need her. He didn’t need any of them, he had Grennson now.
Still, the anger was too fresh and too bright to make him want to be around Grennson, so Darrell took himself off to the paraball field, sat down in the stands and let himself fume for a while, working through the emotions so he could get over them. He felt the bond between him and Grennson press a little, then recede when Grennson realized he wanted to be alone.
Except alone wasn’t in the cards, because a little further down in the stands was a girl with short, pale hair and pink skin, and before he could think better of it Darrell called out, “Valero?”
She turned, and—yes, it was Valero, but not the Valero Darrell remembered. Gone was the hauteur, gone was the precise grooming and flaunted beauty. This was a thin, haunted girl, who blanched when she saw him but didn’t retreat. Darrell’s anger melted away into morbid curiosity, and he came down and sat next to her. She let him, but didn’t speak for a few minutes. He waited for her.
“They still don’t feel like mine,” she said at last. “The legs,” she clarified, prodding one of her calves with a slender finger. “They grew on my body, they should feel like mine, but they don’t. The doctors say I’ve got issues with dissociation now, I’m seeing them twice a day for treatment.” She smiled humorlessly. “Hasn’t helped so far.”
“You lost your legs?” Darrell felt kind of stupid for asking it, but he hadn’t realized she’d been hurt so badly. He should have, being set on fire was more than enough to kill you, shit, he was being an idiot—
“Yeah. And a few other things. All my hair, obviously.” There was a hint of the old Valero there as she brushed her hand over the short strands with a disdainful look. “I can’t stand short hair, but they won’t let me grow it out any quicker yet. Something about overwhelming my reserves. Bullshit.”
Darrell didn’t know what to say to that, so he changed the subject. “When did you get out of the infirmary?”
“Last week. Just in time for finals, hooray.”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
“Yeah.” She stared down at her feet for a moment, wiggling her toes curiously, then looked back at him. “I know he didn’t do it. What they say he did, killing her…I know it wasn’t like that. I wish I could tell everyone, but I’m not allowed to. And now he’s gone.”
He must have been Kyle. Kyle had been Valero’s mentor, if anyone had known what he was up to, it was her. “I’m sorry,” Darrell offered, actually genuine.
“Me too. For everything. I’d tell your quad mates myself, but…” She shrugged. “I don’t think they’d care to see me right now. I don’t think I care to be seen, really.”
“I’m sorry,” Darrell repeated. Valero ducked her head and looked away, but stretched her fingers out toward him. He took her hand, carefully, and they sat together in silence until the light was gone from the sky.
“I am unsure of the wisdom of this course of action,” Matriach Grenn said, her quills bristling slightly as she shifted her weight. She was sitting on an x-legged stool, the same stool that Grennson had seen a thousand times in her den back on Perelan. She was only here as a projection, but even so she exerted a powerful presence that made Grennson want to bow his head. She was his matriarch, and her disapproval was a blow.
Fortunately for Grennson, he had Jason Kim on his side.
“This is what makes the most sense,” Jason said, his own projection on Grennson’s right, between him and the matriarch. “Grennson needs the support, the boys need the distance from the Central System and it will be a good opportunity for the Perel to interact with new people while under close supervision.”
“It also sends a message that the Perel are coming down on the side of the opposition forces, and we do not benefit from staking a claim for either side in a purely human conflict right now,” Matriarch Grenn argued.
“The Perel were relegated to the opposition’s side without the need for their input,” Jason said frankly. “The Libertarians support a closed, uniform, decidedly human empire. The Mazzi have already been removed from several planetary embassies, and you know about the ‘pirate’ attacks. Whether or not things come to open conflict, it doesn’t make sense for the Perel to keep their heads in the sand about this.”
Matriarch Grenn’s quills fluffed up again. “What is this ‘sand’ and why would anyone put their head into it?”
Jason sighed. “It’s an old human idiom, Grenn, forgive the confusion. It just means that ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.”
“I don’t propose to ignore it, but I would not have it made worse either. Bringing human cubs to Perel, especially ones that are the children of well-known politicians, could bring undue attention to our home. We are not equipped to fight a war with the Federation, Jason.”
“This isn’t that sort of escalation. If anything, it’s a symbol of sanctuary, not an insult. Beyond that, before you let any of your sons go out into the universe, you promised you would help them when they needed it. I’ve rescued five Perel in various dangerous circumstances since I became your council’s traveling diplomat, Grenn, and you didn’t care about the circumstances or humanity’s impressions then. This is no different.”
Matriarch Grenn’s quills finally settled. “One would think that I would have learned the futility or arguing with you after so long, Jason.”
Jason smiled. “I’m persistent.”
“You are stubborn. But you are also possibly right. Grennson,” she turned to her foundling, and he snapped to attention. “You have suffered much. Are you sure you would not rather simply return to Perelan for the foreseeable future, to be with your own family again?”
Grennson gave the question the consideration it was due, but answered at length, “No, Matriarch. I don’t want to run away. In order to be trusted by humanity, we must show trust as well. I wish to return here, for the next year, but to bring my friends home with me in the meantime. Please. They are important to me.”
“So it seems.” Finally she inclined her head. “Very well. Ferran has informed me that the two of you are already on your way there, Jason. You did not give very much weight to the possibility of my disapproval.”
“I knew you would be reasonable, as always,” Jason said, and Matriarch Grenn grunted with laughter.
“You are so…what is the human word your mother uses…cheeky, Jason Kim Howards Grenn. And your attitude is catching. Grennson, try not to imitate your foster father too much. I can only take so much.”
Grennson beamed at her, feeling a little more of his fear wither away with her approval. “I’ll try,” he said disingenuously.
Being marched to Admiral Liang’s office wasn’t exactly confusing—Ten was sure he’d caught hir out on something, ze just wasn’t quite sure what is was this time. His damn sergeant refused to tell hir, so ze waited for a few minutes in perturbed silence before finally getting permission to head into his office.
Figuring the best defense was a good offense, ze walked in saying, “Whatever you think I did, I absolutely did not do it and I’m sure you can’t prove it, and even if you think you can I’m sure I can explain it, don’t you understand anything about the creative process, it’s not like I can just stop myself from having these ideas!”
“Relax, Cadet St. Florian,” Admiral Liang said dryly. “I’m not here to address any of your recent experiments, although your reaction has me questioning whether or not that’s a good idea.”
Ten rerouted in an instant. “Of course I’m not doing anything wrong, I just told you that. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I don’t want to talk to you about anything, actually,” the admiral said. “I want to give you something.”
Ten was about to make a snarky remark about inappropriate relations, but a second glance at the admiral’s face had hir reevaluating. He looked completely serious, his hands folded on the desk. Next to them was a tiny vial, with a rotating series of numbers and letters around it. It glowed the glow of cryosetting, which meant that its contents were perishable, which meant… “What is that?”
“Something that might help you, if you’re still interested in cracking the code on naturalism,” Admiral Liang said. “I know you’ve been working on other things lately, and if you’ve given up then our conversation ends now.”
Ten’s eyes jerked from the vial to his face. “I haven’t given up, I’ve just been distracted,” ze snapped. “By insane psychics, or have you forgotten about that already?”
“Not at all. Answer the question.”
“Yes, I’m still interested in finding the cure for naturalism.” For Cody. “What’s in that?”
“Just another possible pathway,” Admiral Liang said. “Before I give it to you, I need to know you will keep the contents of this vial, and its provenance, completely private. You don’t write papers on it, you don’t toy with it, you don’t do anything other than use it to work toward a cure. Otherwise I cut off your source for it, and knowing how you experiment, I forsee you needing plenty of samples. This substance doesn’t synthesize well, so don’t even think about circumventing my restrictions that way. It can’t be duplicated, not currently. It can only be manufactured in one place, and I control access to that. Do you agree to my terms?”
“Yes,” Ten said immediately, hir mind already spiraling off in a hundred different directions. A vaccine, maybe, or a cellular bath, or a new Regen prototype, or a— “What is that?”
“You’ll find out,” Admiral Liang said, and handed the vial over into hir hands. Ten cupped it preciously, watching the notations spiral around and around the outside. Genetic markers…a chemical blueprint for something…
Ze was determined to find out exactly what.