Thorn sat on his bed, the bed he and Kenneth had shared the past few nights, and stared at the broken automaton. The pieces were brittle, the metal not warped even in the bits that weren’t bent out of shape. It wouldn’t have lasted long, which was typical of something bought at the journeyman’s fair.
But it would have been nice to have nonetheless. Kenneth would be nice to have nonetheless.
Thorn’s throat tightened, heat building behind his eyes. Fires, was this it? Their future together, over, because of a broken toy?
But it wasn’t a broken toy. It was everything that had been bubbling in Thorn’s mind since Kenneth had begun to stay here and his friends and peers had looked at Thorn as though he was a stranger. Hearing about the war, and the knowledge of what the magi had done…Was he betraying all of that? Would his own peers, his one time friends, his own people, hate him? Would they hate the man Thorn loved, for what magi had done?
But Kenneth wasn’t like that. He had shown that several times over.
But it didn’t matter if no one realized it.
Thorn cursed, dropping the pieces of the automaton. It should matter. Talentless shouldn’t be like mages, just as shortsighted and prejudiced. There had to be a reason for this, something else, anything.
Thorn was going nowhere chasing his own thoughts in circles. He knew exactly who had done this. He ripped open the door, the wood splintering again as it hit the wall with a bang. He had told Kenneth not to, but Thorn was no mage. He was going to talk to George.
Anger and nervousness clawed at his chest and neck as Thorn strode down the hall. The sound of conversation flowed through the closed door of the common room of the residence hall, where every person he had asked had said George typically frequented.
When Thorn swung the door open, three other people turned to look at him. George sat one of the wooden chairs, two of his friends who Thorn only recognized from a few engineering classes seated across from him. George raised an eyebrow, and silence pervaded the room for a moment, both men waiting for the other to speak.
Finally Thorn gave in. “George, I need to talk to you,” he said through clenched teeth.
“We can talk here,” George replied, his tone as flat as any Professor who was disappointed with a student. It galled, and Thorn clenched his metal hand. Fine.
“I want to know why you have a problem with me,” Thorn said, his voice rising in volume. “I want to know where you get off on entering my room and destroying my property.” The other two people in the room exchanged glances, shifting on the couch as though they suddenly very much did not want to be there.
George’s eyes narrowed. “That’s quite the accusation. Have any proof?”
“What proof do I need?” Thorn’s fist clenched so hard he felt something bend, and he relaxed it with effort. “Don’t take me for a fool.”
“I don’t know, Thorn,” George said, leaning further back on the couch as though this entire conversation was beneath him. “You do let mages screw you.” The other two in the room grimaced at that. “Perhaps your mage broke it by accident.”
“Kenneth was with me the entire time!” Thorn shouted, his face heating. “You know that’s a lie!”
“Then prove it,” George said with a wave of his hand. “There’s no way you can prove I did anything.”
Thorn took a breath against the roaring fury in his ears. George was being purposefully difficult, and Thorn losing control of his anger would only make things worse. As much as he loved Kenneth, his lover’s quick temper was not something Thorn wanted to mimic.
But two could play the game George was playing.
“All I can guess for the reason you’d destroy something and drive Kenneth away is that you’re scared,” Thorn said, emphasizing the last word. “Is Kenneth truly that frightening to you?” George’s eyes narrowed, and Thorn twisted the knife. “A successful man, ready to graduate, and an expert duelist, but scared of mages like everyone else.” George’s two comrades turned to look at him. Thorn dearly wished they would leave, but perhaps an audience would help drive his point home.
“Are you threatening me?” George said, and Thorn blinked in surprise.
“Fires, no,” Thorn said. “Are you afraid of me, too?”
“I’m not afraid!” George stood, shoulders and neck taut, and he gestured at the floor as he spoke, venting his emotion with his hands. “I have no reason to be afraid of you or your mage.”
“Then why are you making it your problem?” Thorn hissed, taking a step closer. He wouldn’t let George intimidate him. “Why talk to me at the Journeyman fair? Why break my belongings? I’m not a fool, George, and neither is Kenneth. If you don’t like us, leave us alone, but I want to know why you did it.”
That was the heart of it all, Thorn realized. He had so many theories about people—they were angry, they were afraid, they would think Thorn was betraying them by being with Kenneth, they would hate Thorn and Kenneth both. He wanted to know which was right.
But it wasn’t George who answered.