Thorn’s heart began to pound, his blood buzzing in his ears even as the realization hit him, despair replacing the shock.
George had seen them both at the fair. He had seen them at the mess hall, after Thorn had placed his bag back in his room.
Surely he wouldn’t. It was petty, stupid, something only the most mean-spirited person would do. A boy at the orphanage had been like that, angry and vengeful to the other children. Thorn had never learned why.
“Thorn, what…” Kenneth moved in front of him, his robes swishing as he stalked toward the door. The metal hinges creaked as he pushed it open further. George hadn’t completely broken it, at least. It would be an easy fix.
“The little automaton…” Kenneth’s voice wavered.
Of course. Swallowing hard, Thorn entered the room, shutting the now-loose door behind him.
His bag had been dumped open, and Kenneth’s gift lay in pieces on the floor. From the bits of metal that lay strewn, it was clear that George had taken some of it.
“Thorn…” Kenneth’s blue eyes met his, confusion plain. “What happened?”
He wanted to say nothing. But that wouldn’t work anymore. The words hurt to speak. “Do you remember George?”
Kenneth’s eyes narrowed, a flush of anger reddening his cheeks. His hand curled into a fist, and Thorn’s skin prickled with unease. “You mean to tell me he destroyed my gift to you? Why?”
Thorn winced. He wasn’t sure what was worse, the loss of the gift or Kenneth’s anger, and realization, at the fact that there were people that would never accept a relationship between a talentless and a mage.
Thorn imagined what it would be like if it were reversed. If Kenneth’s friends rejected him, or rejected Kenneth due to their relationship.
But no. That wouldn’t happen, or at least not like this. They would reject Thorn, and put him in his place. But Kenneth, a mage, was untouchable. So they took it out on Thorn. No matter what, he would always be the target.
“Thorn?” Kenneth pressed, his teeth clenched. “Why?”
“Why do you think?” Thorn said. He regretted the words, the tone, as soon as they were out of his mouth, but it was too late. Anger at George, and at everyone who couldn’t see past the fact that Kenneth was a mage, and his own anger at himself for even caring about what other people thought at all, twisted in his heart. “Nobody wants a mage here.”
Kenneth’s fist uncurled, his gaze dropping to the floor, where bits of his gift had been crushed upon the wooden boards. “I know, but…but you do, don’t you?”
Thorn glanced at the remains of the gift that had brought him so much happiness for such a fleeting time. Maybe this, and Kenneth, was like that—a dream, something that wouldn’t last. No talentless would accept Kenneth, nor would they accept Thorn. He’d be alone, among mages, his entire life, with all his time at the inventor’s college gone to waste and his back turned on his people.
That was the message George had sent, and it hurt the most because the fear had been buzzing in the back of Thorn’s mind since Kenneth had come here.
Thorn snapped his gaze up, heat gathering in his face behind his eyes. “I…I do want you,” he said, but it sounded weak. “I just…”
“Is someone threatening you?” Kenneth growled, his eyes flashing. The sight of an angry mage always made something in Thorn cringe. “Is George threatening you? Because—“
“No, Kenneth, please.” Thorn held up a hand, his heart heavy. “You’ll only make it worse.”
Kenneth took a step back. “What do you want me to do then? I won’t let someone do this to you!”
As if he could change anything. Or no—the worst part was he could. Kenneth could do whatever he wanted to George. That was the entire problem.
Fires, he couldn’t take this. “Kenneth, please, just…calm down. The last thing I want is for you to make it worse!”
Kenneth’s eyes widened, and once again Thorn regretted his words. “How would I make it worse?”
Of course he didn’t know. He couldn’t understand. It was another reason this could never work, but even the thought hurt. Thorn just shook his head, his throat tight.
Kenneth reached out for Thorn, his hand heavy on Thorn’s shoulders. “Thorn…what do you want me to do? Should…should I go?”
No. Yes. Thorn didn’t know. He hated George, hated this, hated the sight of the gift on the floor. Things had been going so well when no one knew about Kenneth, when he hadn’t thought too hard about what being with Kenneth, and being an Enforcer, really meant.
“I…I just need to think,” Thorn said. The sight on Kenneth’s face was like a knife in his heart. “Please, Kenneth.” He wished he would stop looking at him like that.
The lack of Kenneth’s hand on his shoulder was somehow painful. “Alright,” he said, his voice flat. “I’ll be at the collegium. I…” Thorn waited, knowing Kenneth always finished his sentences. It was part of his mage upbringing. “…Will wait for you, in my room.” His hopeful smile hurt too.
Once Kenneth left, Thorn gathered the pieces of his gift, some of the bits of the wood splintering further when he it up. George had been very thorough.