Thorn grinned, pulling his horse closer to Kenneth’s and leaning over to kiss him, a quick peck on the lips. Kenneth grinned as he headed toward the stalls, his cheeks a russet pink the way they always were when Thorn kissed him.
Thorn watched his lover navigate through the crowds, a small smile on his face. Today had gone well so far. Kenneth’s words made him think about his years here at the college, and about all the projects he had worked on.
His first year had been nervewracking, the lone man with no family and little other than a knack for fixing broken heaters. He had scrimped and saved money from repair projects throughout his years at the orphanage, taking lessons in mathematics from the merchants that came through. Knowledge of economics hadn’t helped has much as he hoped when it came to designing, but it had kept him afloat throughout the years in terms of selling his wares.
Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had had no one. So many had lost parents to the war.
Kenneth couldn’t understand. The beautiful blond mage, astride a horse bedecked with a jade halter, dug through a fat coinpurse as he spoke to a vendor. Thorn wondered what he was buying. Buying objects purely for the purposes of remembering a place, a time in one’s life—that was a luxury too.
A luxury he would have, if he stayed with Kenneth. No more scrimping and saving, the worry of having to save for a store gone…all of that was possible with Kenneth.
If he became an Enforcer. Thorn wished he knew more about them.
“You,” a voice said, and he turned, reining in his horse when the animal stepped nervously. George stared up at him, a scowl on his face. “You just kissed him, that mage of yours? And where’s he gone now, left after the servicing?”
Thorn’s face heated, but no one else in the crowd had taken notice of them. He had a mind to ignore George, to stare straight ahead like a noble mage and pretend George was beneath him. But he couldn’t do that. He was no mage, and challenges had to be answered when they were from equals.
“I’m no prostitute, and Kenneth isn’t like that,” he said. George crossed his arms, and Thorn wished he could sound more confident. “Why are you here, anyway? Following me?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” George said. Thorn wondered how he had ever found the other man attractive. “I just couldn’t help but notice you. Don’t bring that mage of yours around again. Just because you’ve sold yourself to them doesn’t mean any of us want anything to do with them.”
Thorn twisted the reins in his hand. He had lost sight of Kenneth in the crowds. “I’ll do what I please,” he said. “You’re no mage either, to order me around.”
“You truly want to cause trouble?” George raised his voice. “You’re in your last year, about to graduate, and all you’re showing the first year students is how to succeed by offering yourself to the first mage who asks. It’s pathetic.” Thorn ground his teeth. “We’re students at the inventor’s college, independent from mages. We fought a war to get away from them, and talentless like you go scuttling back. It makes me sick.” Thorn’s own anger faded in the face of George’s obvious deep-seated hatred. “The last thing I want is to people waste their abilities on magi.” He spat the last word.
Thorn’s skin crawled as memories of his own childhood, his own anger and fear, came back to him. “What did they do to you?” Thorn asked.
George’s nostrils flared. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He took a step forward, sending Thorn’s horse’s ears back.
“I…” Thorn stammered on the words. “I just meant…why are you so angry?”
“Why aren’t you?” Someone turned at George’s words and then hurried away. Another woman ushered her child further from where the two men stood. “I suppose you’ve had a perfect life.” Thorn’s eyes narrowed. “No losses to magi, no mistreatment. Not all of us are so luck—”
“Does this look perfect to you?” Thorn shouted, holding his fist down for George to see. “I lost it as a child, when I lost my parents! Don’t tell me what I have and haven’t experienced at the whims of magi.”
George glared back at him, Thorn’s heart pounding and his throat tight. He hated this. He hated feeling angry, especially at one of his own people.
“Sure, I’m angry at magi,” Thorn continued. “Everyone is sometimes. But I don’t let it control me. The war is over, George.”
“Its only over when they leave us alone,” George said. “You bringing a mage around here is not what anyone wants. You disrespect all of us by being with one.”
Thorn set his jaw. “I don’t care what other people think.” That wasn’t true, but he hoped George believed him. His stomach and chest quavered with uncertainty. He was a talentless. He had lost his parents and his hand to magi in the war. He knew Kenneth could never understand, through no fault of his own.
“You’re an idiot, then,” George said, turning away. “The worst sort of whore.” The last word dripped venom. “Keep your mage away from us, or else.”
He disappeared into the crowd before Thorn could ask who “us” meant. Thorn sat on his horse, watching the crowd, suddenly wishing he hadn’t kissed Kenneth in public and also ashamed that he would ever regret it.
He wanted to have a perfect day of showing Kenneth that their small part of the city was better than a slum. But if people were like George, it would be difficult.
And he didn’t like the threat in George’s words. He couldn’t hurt Kenneth. But he could hurt Thorn.