Kenneth frowned when Thorn looked down at his food, letting out a small sigh. “What’s wrong, Thorn?” Kenneth asked. The collection of greens and meat left on his plate didn’t look that disappointing.
A small smile flashed across Thorn’s face, the same sort of smile Kenneth saw on the faces of his fellow students when they were hiding something from the professors. “Nothing.” His gaze flashed to the door again, but other than the stained wood, there was nothing interesting. “Nothing, truly. Just a thought about work. Nothing important.”
Kenneth leaned back in his chair. Whatever it was, Thorn didn’t want to talk about it, and Kenneth wasn’t going to push it, not when the day was going so well. Kenneth muttered a small spell as he picked up his bread, the soft loaf warming in his hands. It was good on its own, but he always preferred his food hot.
“So, I had hoped to introduce you to some of my friends, but apparently they don’t eat here much anymore either,” Thorn said, craning his neck as he peered around the room. “We’re all so busy these days.”
“I met Saul, at least,” Kenneth said. He wasn’t sure if meeting someone who was clearly afraid of him counted. “Who else should we try and find? Do you hang out often with other students?” At the collegium, friendships were based on class and family, most of the time. Kenneth had never been close to his fellow students, and the amount of political wrangling and outright backstabbing when it came to pursuing grades and opportunities had long made him leery of doing more than going out drinking with his peers. He hoped it was different here. The sheer amount of people at the inventor’s college was already different enough from the cloistered halls of the magi collegium.
Thorn’s gaze went distant, and he picked at his bread before answering. “My first year, I was friends with nearly everyone who lived in the same hall as I did. We were all terrified, given an opportunity to study for no pay. Doing our work successfully meant the difference between staying on and going hungry. We all clung together, like puppies in a basket.” He shrugged one shoulder. “A few of them have graduated already, and as we found our niche, we drifted apart. Saul is the closest friend I have now from that group, so I am glad you met him.” Kenneth nodded. “It’s a shame, to think of it, but I guess since I’m graduating soon, I won’t be seeing the old familiar faces. I’ll even miss Professor Varlen.” He gave Kenneth a smirk.
“You’ll meet plenty of new people. I will, too,” Kenneth said.
Thorn nodded, but the pleased smile Kenneth expected didn’t come. “I hope I can stay in touch with people here too,” Thorn said.
A prickle of unease went down Kenneth’s spine. Of course. Thorn, by going with him, would be entering the world of mages, meeting nobles and staying in Kenneth’s mansion. Kenneth had hoped Thorn would be excited.
But Thorn would be losing things too, and Kenneth had to remember that. “We can arrange ways for you to stay in touch with others,” Kenneth said, the words coming fast. “There’s letters, and we can set up a system of message flames or magicked paper to—“
Thorn held up a hand, palm out, shaking his head and laughing. “Relax, Kenneth. I understand. I’m sure I can send letters. It’s just…graduation, is all. Aren’t there people you’ll miss? Experiences you’ll wish you could have again once you move on and become an Enforcer?”
Kenneth tapped the table with a finger. His first year had been spent arguing with his father about pursuing war magic. Alchemy was intriguing, and he had done well, but given his background, his future had never been in doubt. He would return to his parent’s home and run the household, with a focus on maintaining connections to other nobles and the Councilmembers, not with fellow students.
He suddenly wished he had taken the collegium more seriously. His studies had never been important as anything more than just another way to win recognition and gain status. It had never meant the difference between success and starvation, not like Thorn.
He wished he could understand Thorn more. He wanted to stay with him, desperately, but fires, their lives were so different.
“I suppose you’d rather not remember the collegium, judging from your expression,” Thorn said, putting his hand on Kenneth’s.
His touch sent sudden passion through Kenneth, sending the aether reeling as his magic jumped. Fires.
Thorn drew his hand back, shaking it. “Ouch. Static.”
Kenneth closed his fist, willing himself back under control. He had been doing better, but it seemed he hadn’t quite gotten over the effect of Thorn’s nearness, not yet. At least Thorn hadn’t attributed the shock to Kenneth’s magic. “What say we go back to your room?” Kenneth asked. Maybe, if he could be physical with Thorn, he would get himself together. The thought only made things worse, of course, but soon…he swallowed down a surge of lust.
Thorn’s mouth turned up, his gaze going heavy-lidded as he glanced at Kenneth. “I would like that.”
We’re not so different, Kenneth reassured himself as they headed down the hall, Thorn’s hand soft in his. We’ve had different backgrounds, different lives, but we love each other. That’s enough. Love and lust made him squeeze Thorn’s hand, and as they rounded the familiar corner of the dorms he moved to stroke Thorn’s neck.
Thorn froze, Kenneth nearly bumping into him. The door to Thorn’s room hung open, the wood splintered.