Thorn woke before his lover did, and he extricated himself from the too-small bed, careful not to wake up the sleeping mage.
The absurdity of it all hit him again as he took in the sight of the sleeping blond. His lover was a noble mage. Never in a thousand years did Thorn think such a thing would ever happen. Sure, he had fantasized about it. Plenty of talentless fooled around with non-noble mages. But a noble? And to have him here, spending an entire week with him?
It was crazy. And incredibly exciting.
Now was his chance to show Kenneth what talentless were like.
As he stood there, his clockwork alarm began banging out the hour. Thorn jumped, leaping across the room to turn it off.
“Urgh…” He turned the metal key too late, the room going silent, but Kenneth shifted under the covers. “What…” Kenneth blinked, and Thorn had to smile as his lover slowly realized where he was.
“What was that?” Kenneth said with a yawn. The covers revealed his toned chest and slim hips as he sat up. “It sounded like two bars banging against each other.”
“You’ve never stayed over on days I have seminar before,” Thorn said. “This is my alarm.” He held out the contraption, a clock outfitted with a piece of metal that would hold tension until the clock hit the correct hour. “And I—or more accurately, we—have to get ready for class. And then I have to work afterward. It’s going to be a long day.”
“Class?” Kenneth said, perking up. “What sort of class?” He hurried out of bed, grabbing his bags and pulling out a silk set of robes. He also put on his noble’s armlet with a click, the gold shimmering. A twinge of anxiety went through Thorn.
“You’ll see,” Thorn said, swallowing down nerves. He had wanted to show Kenneth what talentless were like.
But all his peers were going to meet Kenneth too.
Thorn was very grateful that he had met Kenneth when he was so close to graduating. Being in a small workroom full of dozens of other students with a well dressed, noble mage at his side would have been awkward. The unease that had hit him this morning didn’t fully abate, though.
It was strange enough walking down the hall to his seminar with Professor Flint. Some of his fellow students and professors had seen Kenneth, or had at least heard the rumors that Thorn was dating a mage. But more than a few people they passed stared at Kenneth with wide eyes, or muttered darkly to themselves.
Thorn kept his head high. He loved Kenneth. This wasn’t a betrayal of his people. Kenneth wasn’t like other mages.
He kept telling himself that when they entered the lecture hall. Kenneth had stayed quiet during the walk there, trailing along after Thorn like a puppy. Thorn wanted to be more open, to hold his hand or joke and talk with him like they always did when they were alone. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it, not when they were out in the open, among his peers.
Guilt twisted in his stomach, and it alleviated only a little when they chose seats in the back of the hall, thankfully early. In the privacy of the dim electric lights, he reached over and squeezed Kenneth’s hand.
“This is a lecture on mechanics,” he said. “Let me know if you have any questions.” Ahead of them, a woman took a seat, either not noticing Kenneth’s gold noble’s armlet or not caring. Thank goodness for that.
“Thorn!” Thorn looked up, grinning when he saw his friend Saul. His grin faded when he saw Saul’s wide, frightened eyes.
“Saul, you…you met Kenneth,” Thorn said, wishing he sounded more confident. “In the library. He’s my, uh…”
“So it’s true,” Saul said. “You really are dating a mage.”
Thorn froze. He knew exactly how afraid of mages Saul was. His artificial leg, hidden beneath his pants, was there because of the war. And he was an orphan, like Thorn.
Magi had killed so many.
“Would you like to sit with us?” Kenneth broke in. “I won’t understand much, but it’s nice to meet you.” He looked to Thorn, his gaze piercing.
Right. Fires, he was being rude. “Kenneth, this is Saul. He’s a friend of mine, who also studies prosthetics.”
Saul lingered, looking down the rows and then to Thorn and Kenneth. Mostly at Kenneth. “I think I’ll sit closer today,” he said with a shake of his head. Thorn nodded, throat tight.
“Will you be around later? We can watch the duels tonight,” Thorn said. Saul just nodded, already walking away.
“He’s afraid of me,” Kenneth said. “And you’re…ashamed? You’ve been so quiet.”
Fires. “It’s…it’s not like that,” Thorn said, keeping his voice low. “I’m not ashamed of you. I just…” He threw up his hands. “To some talentless, a mage like you is a guaranteed ticking time bomb.”
“It’s more than that,” Kenneth said. “This is the first time I’ve been around when classes are in session, when you interact with your friends,” Kenneth said. “You worry what others will think, of both me and you for being with me.”
Thorn’s stomach sank. “I’m excited to have you here.” That was true, and he desperately hoped Kenneth believed it. “I want you to see what we do.” But he couldn’t lie. “And yes, I’m a little…overwhelmed.”
“It’s alright, Thorn,” Kenneth said. “I understand.”
Kenneth sighed, settling back into the uncomfortable wooden lecture chair. “I do. I just wish we magi hadn’t done so much that so many are resentful of us to the point they would judge another for being with one.”
Thorn frowned, and reached out to hold Kenneth’s hand again. “It will get better,” he said.
“It will,” Kenneth said, whispering when the lecturer entered the room, heading toward the podium. “It will start today. I’ll be on my best behavior.” He met Thorn’s eyes and smiled. “I’ll show people they have no reason to fear us, and no reason to be angry.”
Thorn smiled back, some of the weight lifting off his shoulders. “Every little step counts.”