Kenneth paused outside the gate to the inventor’s college, the lack of Thorn’s nearness, made more obvious by the reduction in his magic, nearly physical painful. The last thing he wanted was to go to the stables and get Jade and ride back to the collegium. They were going to spend a week together, get his magic under control….things had been going so well.
It was George, Kenneth knew. The look in Thorn’s eyes when Kenneth had said his name was all the proof Kenneth needed. He tightened his fist, swallowing against rising anger and frustration. Without Thorn nearby, at least, there was no uncontrolled answer from the aether.
George had shown Thorn that talentless wouldn’t accept mages. But surely not all talentless were like that.
Thorn had begged him not to make things worse. He wouldn’t. But he wouldn’t just give up so easily, either.
Kenneth turned on his heel and headed back into the college.
He didn’t know the passageways and halls as well as Thorn, and his angry strides made more than a few people jump in surprise when they saw a mage stalking down the hall.
Finally, someone pointed him to where he wanted to go, where the person he wanted to meet would likely be.
He pushed open the door, peering inside. The room could have been spacious, but stacks of shelves filled every corner and edge, and desks laden with labeled bins created a narrow passageway. Wrenches, steel bits, screws, and a plethora of other tools Kenneth had no name for decorated every spare inch of desk space.
“Hello?” Kenneth called. He walked inside, squeezing through a narrow path created by a desk and a bin that was larger than the other desk it lay on. Nothing would ever be so disorganized at the collegium.
Something clattered, and Kenneth saw the man he wanted to see.
Saul stared at him, eyes wide. “Is Thorn here?” was the first thing he said.
Kenneth shook his head, wincing when Saul took a step back. Fires, there was no reason for this man to be afraid! Is this really what talentless thought of him?
Thorn’s words from when they had first started dating echoed in his mind. Talentless were angry, but that anger came from fear. George was angry, and likely afraid. Saul was just afraid.
But if Kenneth was truly going to be with Thorn, he had to learn to deal with that, and let people know there was no reason to fear him.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Kenneth said. “I…would like some advice.” He leaned back against the desk, the sharp corner of a shelf digging into his back. Hopefully Saul would relax.
“Okay…” Saul put down a sharp looking tool, a small wheel settling into place like a spinning coin. He never took his eyes of Kenneth. “What about?”
Kenneth sighed, Thorn’s stricken face, and the sight of his broken gift, coming back to him. He wasn’t sure how to start. “About…Thorn, I suppose,” he said. “I care about him. A lot.” His throat felt tight, the realization and fear coming to him even as he spoke the words. “But…would it be better for him if I left him alone?” The question twisted like a knife.
Saul just stared, the room silent for a moment. A mote of dust drifted past a sunbeam that shone in through a grimy window.
“Why do you ask?” Saul finally said.
Kenneth threw up his hands, then held himself still when Saul flinched. “Because I’m a mage,” Kenneth said, his voice thick with sadness and frustration. “You’re afraid of me. Everyone here is afraid of me. The last thing I want is for Thorn to lose his friends, his background, because of me.”
Tension Kenneth hadn’t noticed before now left Saul’s form. “Why would he lose those things?”
Kenneth stumbled over his words, biting his tongue. He had to find the right thing to say. The protests whirled in his mind—because Thorn would be an Enforcer among mages, because he would follow Kenneth, because his own people hated Kenneth, and thus Thorn. Because of the war. But what came out was “His peers are angry at him because of his relationship with me.”
And that was the reason, boiled down to the hardest truth. Kenneth felt some of the weight lift from his shoulders at the presence of the problem put into words.
Saul leaned forward in his chair, his metal leg thumping on the ground. “I’m not angry at him,” he said quietly.
“Others are,” Kenneth said. “They’ve threatened him.” Not directly, but destroying belongings was enough. Fury boiled in Kenneth’s gut.
Saul raised both eyebrows. “Where is he now?”
“He asked me to leave,” Kenneth said, his throat tightening again. “To give him time to think.”
“Do you care about him?” Saul asked, his voice and gaze suddenly piercing. “Do you love him?”
“Of course!” Kenneth shouted with no hesitation. “Why else would I be here? I just want him to be happy.” And if that meant being without him…Kenneth opened and closed a fist, sorrow trickling down his spine like claws.
Saul leaned back in his chair, his leg thumping again. “I’m not Thorn,” he said, “And I don’t speak for him. But if you truly do care for him…” he sighed, shrugging. “As long as you care about each other, it shouldn’t matter.”
Saul’s words were like a balm on an open wound. “I know,” Kenneth said. “I think so too.” He certainly didn't care what other mages thought of him dating a talentless.
But he wasn’t Thorn either. And it was Thorn’s decision.