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A Whateley Academy (Second Generation) Tale

Myriad Meetings: A Tale of Two Cottages

by NeoMagus & Malagua
With varying levels of contribution and assistance from the usual suspects of the G2 Crew.

Part One

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 – Evening

Dickinson Hill, Whateley Academy

 

As Tanya crested the top of Dickinson hill and looked out over the shallow valley laid out before her, she couldn't help but stop for a moment to take in the sight.  She'd hoped to see her mom's old cottage well before now, but between the rushed ad hoc tour and then the extended wait in Kane Hall for the debriefing with security, she hadn't gotten the chance to even set eyes on the place before dinner.  Now she was here though, and the sight of Whitman cottage nestled into the secluded glen on the northeast side of the hill was a welcome one indeed.  The ivy-covered red brick was just what she'd expected, even if the somewhat unusual “H” shape with its two nested courtyards certainly wasn't what Aunt Jorunn had described from her days at Whateley.  Obviously times had changed since then and the school had changed right along with them, even as it still managed to hang onto some of that old flair it had long possessed.

 

With a deep breath and only a slight involuntary shudder, Tanya began making her way down the hill to the place that, for all intents and purposes, would be her home away from home for the next four years.  The thought both excited and intimidated her a bit, especially given that none of her new friends would actually be with her in the cottage.  Of course it was just her luck that it had worked out that way.  Still, it wasn't like she'd be barred from hanging out with Laura, Morgana, and the others, and she was bound to make even more friends within her cottage, so perhaps this would end up working out for the better anyways.  She certainly hoped so.

 

The brick path down the hillside was comfortably shallow, and even as the approaching dusk was beginning to bathe both it and the cottage ahead in the long shadow of the hill it was still well lit by the antique-looking gaslights spaced out along its length.  Tanya felt the effect was rather charming, and briefly wondered what the place would look like after the first snowfall of winter.  Dang, now she really wanted to fly up and get a bird's eye view of the place, but she had a strong feeling that would likely be frowned upon, so she restrained herself and continued her brisk walk.

 

Even without her flight, it wasn't long before she found herself rounding the southeast corner of Whitman as the path she'd been following merged into a walkway around the building.  There was a small circle drive, presumably for students to be dropped off or picked up by either parents or the school's shuttle buses, which was connected to the campus road that ran south to the main campus proper.  At the north end of the drive the road connected to what appeared to be a smaller maintenance road, which Tanya took careful note of.  That might be a good place to explore for her morning runs.  Other than that, the only thing really of note that she could see was what looked to be a small collection of greenhouses just on the other side of the road.  Those might be worth checking out too, but that would have to wait.

 

Putting her back to the road, Tanya stepped forward into Whitman's east courtyard, looking past the central fountain and the assorted wrought iron patio furniture to the main doors of the building's central span.  That was her destination, and after only a few moments to navigate through the relatively open space, she was there.  With a deep breath, she finally opened up the heavy oak door and stepped inside.

 

line break short

 

Once through the door, Tanya's first impression was that the interior of the cottage was going to be no less impressive than the exterior.  The entrance hall itself seemed to encompass the entire central span of the building, and it was laid out like a large and well-apportioned common room, with a grand staircase and atrium directly across from the entrance she'd just come through, as well as elevators on either side.   Comfortable looking furniture was scattered about the area, arranged into reading nooks and friendly gathering places, along with two large brick fireplaces built into the east wall, which she imagined would be great to sit around when the weather turned cold.  She could already see herself curling up with a blanket and good book, preferably with a mug of hot cider to go along with it.  The floors themselves were hardwood but covered with simple yet elegant rugs in the sitting areas, and this combined with the large windows and, oddly enough, a few quilted tapestries on the walls to give the place a surprisingly homely feel.  All told, Tanya found the whole package rather appealing, which was a pleasant relief.  She could certainly imagine much worse conditions for dorms at a private boarding school.

 

Unfortunately, as relieved as she was about the state of the cottage, she was still a bit unnerved that there didn't seem to be anyone around.  Sure, she and the others had finished dinner rather late, owing to the hold up with security, but there had to be SOMEONE in the cottage to point her to where she was supposed to go, especially with dusk rapidly approaching outside.

 

“Hello?” she called out somewhat hesitantly, not even sure where whoever might answer her would come from.  When no response came immediately, she decided to look around a bit.  Hopefully she'd be able to find an office or something.

 

As she wandered over toward the north side of the building, the nearest fireplace caught her eye, not because of the bust of someone she could only assume was Walt Whitman, the namesake of the cottage, that was sitting on the mantelpiece, but because it was lit, which didn't seem like a wise idea with no one around to watch it.  On top of that, the weather wasn't exactly cool enough yet to really merit it at all, so it was just odd all the way around.  Upon closer inspection however, she realized that it wasn't producing any heat, and it quickly became apparent why.  A quick prod with the fire iron hanging nearby revealed that what she had originally taken to be fire was in fact just a really good hologram, designed to give the illusion that the fireplace was lit for the sake of ambiance, not for heat.  Tanya had to admit, that was kind of neat.  Maybe a trifle unnecessary, but still neat nonetheless.

 

Mm...mrow!

 

Tanya actually dropped the fire iron as she quickly spun around, inadvertently causing the duffel bag which was still hanging across her back to knock over the brush and dustpan that were used for the ashes, along with the stand they were hanging from.  She spared the fallen instruments and their noisy clatter only a brief embarrassed glance however, as her eyes darted about seeking the source of the noise that had startled her.  And what she saw only furthered her embarrassment, as there lying curled up on the blue suede sofa was a large gray-furred cat, its head tilted awkwardly as it watched her with odd green eyes.  Its tail flicked back and forth a few times as though it were amused.

 

“Well now, what was that for, you little rascal?” Tanya asked half jokingly as her breath started to slow back down.  “Do you always sit around quietly just so you can spook people?”  Tanya chuckled to herself as she bent down to pick up the fallen tools and set them back into place.  She'd never been what you would call a cat person, but she didn't dislike them either, and as she thought about it, it WAS kind of funny how she'd overreacted.

 

Mrow...

 

Turning her gaze back to the cat as she stood back up, she saw that it was still watching her, though this time she got the distinct impression that it was waiting for something, the flicking of its tail somehow displaying impatience rather than amusement now.

 

“Well aren't you just a little attention seeker...” she said playfully as she walked over to the sofa.  The cat seemed a little skittish at first when Tanya reached out her hand to it, but after just a moment's hesitation it leaned in so Tanya could stroke its ears.  Contented purring soon followed.  “Yeah, you like that, don't you?”

 

“Well, this is certainly an interesting sight...”

 

Startled again, Tanya jolted back away from the couch as she mentally kicked herself for not being more watchful of her surroundings.  And when her eyes settled on the person who had spoken, she chided herself even harder.  The girl looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, clearly an upperclassman, with beautiful red tresses that hung down to the middle of her back with a single thin braid tucked over her right ear.  She had a strong, athletic build that Tanya was instantly envious of, but what was even more notable about her was that she was really tall.  Like, REALLY tall.  Tanya's best guess put her at at least six feet, though she felt like it was probably closer to six and a half.  Compared to her own five foot two inch frame, this girl was practically a giant.  How in the world had she missed her approach?

 

“Oh, I'm sorry,” the older girl responded with an apologetic smile, “I didn't mean to startle you.  Usually people see me coming a mile away.”

 

“Umm...yeah, I can see why,” Tanya quickly replied, only to blush fiercely when she realized that the words had actually come out of her mouth.  “Uh...I mean...”

 

“Don't worry about it,” the tall girl replied with a chuckle.  “I'm not so vain that I don't realize I can be a bit intimidating when people first meet me.  You've done a lot better than some people I've met.”  With that she stepped forward and came around the corner of the sofa, extending a hand in greeting. “I'm Rachel, or Sequoia if you want to use my codename, and I'm one of the wing advisers here in Whitman.  Would I be correct in assuming that you're Tanya Wright?”

 

“Yeah, that's me,” Tanya replied a bit nervously as she extended her hand to shake Rachel's, “and the codename's Invictus if you want to use that, though I usually prefer to just use my name.”  She noted that the older girl had quite a strong grip, though she also got the distinct impression that she was holding back her real strength.  She'd gotten pretty good at gauging that kind of thing from interacting with Nemean back home.

 

“Well I guess we'll just stick with Tanya then, unless we're doing anything official that calls for the codename.”  Sequoia's smile was warm and welcoming, and it was quickly putting Tanya's nerves at ease.  “I'm sorry that none of us were down here to greet you when you arrived.  We'd been told to expect you some time before dinner, so when you didn't show up we kind of assumed that you'd been delayed again and weren't going to show.”  She gave a mildly embarrassed grin at that.  “Mrs. Savage and Ms. Everette went to have dinner with Mrs. Horton and Mr. Babich over in Poe, and they haven't gotten back yet.  And the rest of us weren't expecting anyone this evening so we're all upstairs.  I only came down because Telekat said she heard something and I told her I'd check it out.”

 

“Uh...yeah, that was probably me calling out earlier to see if anyone was around,” Tanya said sheepishly. “Either that or it was me knocking over things when that cat startled me.”  She motioned with her arm to the cat that was still sitting on the couch with an oddly smug look on its face.

 

“Heh, yeah that was probably it.  And speaking of Shisa...” the girl turned her gaze to stare at the cat, whose only response was to tilt its head sideways again, “why aren't you wearing your cloak?  You know Telekat is going to hassle you again if she sees you without it.”

 

Now Tanya was confused.  Had this older girl just asked the cat a question about wearing a cloak?  She'd heard some odd things before, but that had to take the cake.  Or at least...it did until the cat spoke back.

 

“Awkward.  Re...sss...strictive.  Not comfortable.”  The words were broken and hesitant, as if speaking was quite the challenge, but it was unmistakably speech, and in a vaguely human and feminine voice no less.  Tanya felt as though her jaw must have hit the floor.

 

“I know you're not used to wearing anything like that, and you don't think it's necessary, but those ARE the rules,” Sequoia replied with a weary sigh. “You have to wear SOMETHING.”

 

“Outside?  Yes.  Class?  Yes.”  The cat's responses were slow but forceful, her face somehow stern as she struggled to put the right amount of emphasis to her words.  “Here?  In co...ottage?  In h...home? No. Want comfort.”

 

Sequoia gave a resigned sigh.  “I guess I can understand that.  But you know Telekat is still going to hassle you about it, right?  You'll probably have to talk to Mrs. Savage about it if you want her off your back.”

 

“Why was waiting.  Talk when return.”

 

The tall upperclassman nodded once, though the slight frown on her face showed that she wasn't overly happy with the response.  The cat apparently noticed and gave a soft hiss that, oddly enough, sounded more like a sigh than anything else.  Then she stood up on her four feet, allowing Tanya to see that the front two looked somewhat like human hands, and gave Sequoia a resigned look.

 

“Will get cloak.  Will wear until t...talk with Mrs. Sss...Savage.”

 

Sequoia's smile was both grateful and apologetic.  “Thank you, Shisa.  I appreciate it.  And for what it's worth, I DO hope you get permission to be a bit more relaxed, at least here around the cottage anyway.”

 

Shisa gave a firm nod, though she still didn't really look too happy about it.  Then she turned and faced the short lavender-haired girl who was still too stunned to speak.

 

“Good to meet y...ou, Ta...an...ya.  Have nice hands.”  Then, with an almost sly grin, she turned and easily jumped up over the back of the sofa and started making her way towards the staircase.

 

Tanya, for her part, didn't really know how to respond to that.  A strange girl-cat giving her a compliment about her hands was definitely NOT something she'd ever expected to experience.  She'd thought she was ready for anything Whateley could throw at her, but apparently she'd been wrong.

 

Sequoia quietly stared at Tanya's expression for just a few more seconds before busting out laughing.  When she finally recovered enough to stop, she still couldn't help smiling.

 

“Well, I guess that's one way to say 'Welcome to Whitman!'”

 

line break short

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Twain Cottage – Early Evening

 

BING!

 

When the elevator doors opened onto the second floor common room, Victor tensed up just a bit.  There weren't too many people here in Twain yet, since he was actually earlier than he should be, but the ones who were here already were almost all GSD cases, and while Vic personally had nothing against them, some of them were still unnerving to see.

 

Fortunately the common room was only sparsely occupied at the moment, so it wasn't too big of a deal. At the far end of the room he could see a pair of guys wrapped up in their own conversation, one tall and older looking who was covered with black fur and had a distinctly canine head, while the other oddly enough appeared to be a horse-boy of all things, who was even taller than his companion though he gave the distinct impression of being younger.  A short distance from them, and gathered around one of the mock fireplaces he'd been briefly shown earlier, was a small group of other younger boys, probably freshmen like himself.  One of these was covered in long, brownish fur and hanging from the ceiling from his oddly hand-like feet, and he was even holding a banana with a prehensile tail.  Another seemed to be nothing more than a living shadow, as if he absorbed all light that touched him, and still another had thick, grayish skin along with what appeared to be a horn starting to grow from his nose.  Finally the last of that group, who was apparently occupying the attention of the others with some kind of magic trick or something, seemed to have some kind of crystalline growths on his face and hands, though Vic suspected that he probably had them in other places on his body as well.

 

Other than those six people though, the common room appeared to be deserted, and Vic found himself giving a brief sigh of relief.  He knew he'd have to talk to people here and make friends eventually, but he was still trying to warm up to that idea.  He'd never been the most sociable kid in any of his old schools, and already he had more new friends than he really knew what to do with after meeting Tanya, Morgana, and the others back in Boston.  He honestly wasn't sure he could handle any more at the moment.  So for now at least, he'd keep to himself.

 

Turning his back on those in the common room, he now made his way toward the northern span of the floor, where he'd been shown his room was before he'd gone to dinner, which had in itself been a bit awkward.  He'd met up with Jimmy quickly enough since he and Kenshin were rooming just down the hall from him, but once they had made it to the Crystal Hall none of the others were anywhere in sight, so the two of them had just found a table and spent the next thirty minutes in a rather tense silence, broken only by the chipper chatter of Jimmy's VI.  Vic had actually been about to regretfully excuse himself when he finally spotted Tanya waving him over to a table by the wall, where the rest of the group was finally gathering after what was apparently a “fun-filled visit” to Security at Kane Hall.

 

Shaking his head at the thought that his new circle of friends was likely to be far from boring, Vic rounded the corner onto the northwest wing...just in time to walk headlong into a fellow student.

“Hey, do ya mind!” snapped the shorter boy with an irritated scowl, just before he roughly shouldered Vic out of his way.  His long, pointed ears were laid back close to his blood-red hair, making his face look even more menacing, though his sharp teeth made much more of an impression.

 

Vic staggered back from the force of the boy's shove, too stunned to say anything.  The kid was strong, his arms and shoulders built almost like a linebacker even though he was only about five feet tall at most.  To top it off, his arms were too long for his body, so that his wickedly clawed hands hung down to just above his knees.  All told, he gave Vic the distinct impression of some kind of fantasy goblin, albeit the more dangerous kind.

 

“Well excuse me,” Vic muttered under his breath, rubbing his arm where he could already feel a light bruise starting to form.  He made a mental note to avoid the red-headed jerk as much as possible in the future, then continued on down the hallway to room 217, his assigned abode.

 

Stepping inside, he shut the door behind him before leaning up against it with a frustrated sigh.  So much for making good first impressions, he thought to himself.  He wasn't even through his first day at Whateley and already he was making people mad at him.  He'd have to be more careful about that, given how dangerous he knew some of the kids here could be.

 

Letting out a deep breath, he turned his attention to the duffel and backpack that were sitting on his bed still waiting to be unpacked.  The duffel had definitely seen better days, although given everything it had been through during the past couple of months on the street, it was holding up nicely.  The backpack was in much better shape, given that he'd received it as a gift less than 24 hours ago, as part of a 'care package' from his sponsor.  He'd look through that in a bit, after he'd put away all of his other things first.

 

The duffel's contents were much like itself, mostly a few changes of clothes that were worn out and ragged from too much hard use and too little care, which he stuffed haphazardly into the drawers beneath his wardrobe.  Besides that there was also the small shoe box that held his more personal items, which he set aside on his desk, and finally there was a nondescript black kevra suit, which Vic hesitated to touch.

 

Of all the things he presently owned, this was both the one he would most like to be rid of and also the one he knew he'd most need at some point.  He'd never expected to wear anything like it, and both his mom and his dad would be disappointed to find that he had, but when the street gang you've fallen in with just to survive gets approached by the Syndicate with a contract for an operation, it's very difficult to argue when they give you the tools to do it.

 

Suddenly Victor could feel the surface he was standing on shift.  Gunshots sounded somewhere off to his right, only to be drowned out by an explosion that knocked him off his feet.  The next thing he knew he was underwater, sinking as he was being dragged down by heavy metal debris, unable to swim to the surface.  The light around him fading as his lungs burned...

 

With a firm shake of his head, Vic stuffed the suit back into the duffel and shoved the whole thing under his bed.  He didn't need the reminder of how close he'd been to dying, and he certainly didn't want anyone else finding it either.  An involuntary shudder coursed through his body.  He didn't even know how he'd survived after the operation went south.  He'd woken up alone on some beach and had to make his way back to the gang's safehouse on his own.  Then he'd run into...her...of all people, which led to him getting picked up by the cops, who had video of someone like him at the incident but didn't have any other answers.  And finally Carol and Ronni hadn't had any answers for him either after they helped him escape the station.

 

Vic sat down on his bed and stared at his hands in frustration.  Sure he was glad that the operation, even though it was largely a failure, had ended up with him getting sponsored to come here to Whateley.  And he was certainly glad that he'd survived.  But it bugged him that he still didn't know how.  Could it have been some new development with his powers?  One of the girls on the train, Bianca he thought, had said that something seemed off about his powers, that the numbers didn't add up to what he'd been tested as so far.  Could there be something to that?  Could there be a connection?  It was so frustrating to not know.

 

KNOCK, KNOCK.

 

Vic started at the knocking on his door, something he definitely wasn't used to after the last couple of months.  “Yes?” he called out as he stood up from the bed.  “Who is it?”

 

“It's Zephyr, your wing adviser,” replied a notably stern voice as Vic walked over to the door.  “I think you and I need to have a little talk.”

 

Vic hesitated a moment with his hand on the door knob.  Something about his visitor's voice didn't bode well, but it wasn't like he could just ignore him.  Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, he warily turned the knob and opened the door.

 

At first glance, Zephyr didn't look too imposing.  He was tall and lean, with well toned muscles that Vic found himself somewhat envious of.  Then Vic noticed the oddities.  The talon-like claws on his hands and bare feet.  The smattering of feathers in his black hair, which matched the jet black raven wings on his back.  And his eyes, eyes like a hawk with a piercing gaze that left Vic feeling practically naked with how fiercely they were sizing him up.  He wondered if this must be what a mouse feels like when it sees a hawk circling overhead.

 

After a long moment of such scrutiny, the upperclassman finally stepped into the room as a smug grin spread across his face.  “So, you're here a bit early for a pretty, though I guess that can be excused given the circumstances noted in your file.  How are you liking Whateley so far?”

 

“Uhh...so far it's been alright, I guess,” Vic replied warily.  There was something about this guy that just made him want to be extra cautious, though he couldn't help asking a question.  “And um...what do you mean by 'pretty?'”

 

“Oh, that's just what some friends and I call anyone who doesn't have GSD, especially if they can easily pass for a baseline.”  He gave a nonchalant wave of his hand as he said this, as though it were no big deal.  “As you can probably tell from looking at me and some of your other cottage-mates who are already here, some of us just aren't so lucky.”  He flexed his wings ever so slightly, as if to prove his point.

 

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” Vic replied slowly, getting more and more nervous with the direction this conversation was heading and with the hint of snarkiness in Zephyr's tone.  “It just seemed that...”

 

“So are you settling in pretty well?” Zephyr interrupted forcefully, casting a quick glance around the still mostly barren room before setting his stern gaze back on Vic.  “Not having any trouble with cottage-mates, are we?”

 

“What?  No, I've hardly...”

 

“So what happened with you and Red out in the hallway not too long ago, huh?”

 

Vic suddenly felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.  This upperclassman, his wing adviser of all people, had just steered the whole conversation exactly where he wanted it, and now his tone had suddenly shifted from snarky but nominally friendly to suspicious and accusing.  This didn't bode well at all.

 

“Nothing happened at all,” Vic replied indignantly.  “We both rounded the corner without paying attention so we bumped into each other, at which point he shoved me out of his way and...”

 

“He says you were the one bothering him,” Zephyr interrupted him again, his accusing eyes unwavering.

 

“Seriously?  We bumped into each other and he shoved me out of the way!  I've got the bruise to prove it!”  Vic was starting to get really frustrated now, and he raised up his arm to show the older boy his proof, but Zephyr merely held up his hands to stop him.

 

“Okay, let's just get something straight, right now,” he spoke slowly but forcefully, the smug grin now gone from his face.  “I make it a point to watch out for my fellow non-pretties.  As a wing adviser, I have to play nice with everyone, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to let things slide when one of my own is being hassled.  Just know that I'm going to be keeping my eyes on you, as well as all the other pretties in the cottage, and if I see any kind of badgering or...”

 

“Hey, Michael, am I interrupting something here?”

 

Vic turned his gaze away from Zephyr to face the newcomer standing in his doorway, who appeared to be another upperclassman and was looking at Zephyr himself with a calm yet determined gaze.  The two were about the same height, but beyond that they looked remarkably different.  Where Zephyr's build was lean but obviously athletic, this boy could be more aptly described as thin and lanky.  Where Zephyr appeared poised and focused, this one's look was decidedly more relaxed and laid back, exemplified by his raggedly unkempt brown hair, which seemed to be the only odd thing about him.  There were no claws, feathers, or wings, or any other apparent form of GSD, a fact which Vic took quick note of.  He had a strong feeling that he was looking at someone Zephyr did not get along with well at all.

 

“Just a conversation with one of my charges, Shawn,” Zephyr replied coldly as he turned away from Vic, obviously frustrated at the interruption.  “Nothing you need to involve yourself with.”

 

“Oh I'm not looking to get involved at all, bro,” the upperclassman replied with a carefree shrug of his shoulders.  “I'm just here with a delivery for young Victor here.”  As if to prove his point, he held up a bundle of fabric as he turned to meet Vic's curious gaze.  “Pops wanted me to fetch these from the storage room downstairs and bring them up here.  Said you might need them since you didn't really come with much.”

 

“Umm...yeah.  Thanks” Vic replied hesitantly, somewhat embarrassed as he accepted the offered bundle of what he could now tell were bed sheets and a comforter.  Of course he didn't have any of his own, and he was grateful that they were being provided, but it still felt awkward having to accept them.

 

“Alright then, you've made your delivery” Zephyr interjected again with a considerable edge to his voice.  “Do you mind stepping out now so we can finish our talk?”

 

“Actually I'm not finished just yet,” Shawn replied with grin.  “I've also got a message for you, Mike.”

 

Zephyr gritted his teeth for a moment before letting out an exasperated sigh.  “Shawn, you KNOW I don't like being called that.  If you insist on not using my codename, then at least use my proper name rather than the shorthand.”

 

“Sure thing, Mike.”

 

Vic found himself slowly inching away from the raven-winged upperclassman who would have just committed murder if glares alone could kill.  For a moment the tension in the room was nearly palpable, though you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at Shawn, who seemed to take no notice of that fact.  Finally the tension subsided a bit when Zephyr took a deep breath to compose himself, though his displeasure was still quite evident in his voice.

 

“The message?”

 

“Two messages, actually,” Shawn replied with a grin before counting off with his hands.  “First, Menehune and Size would like you to try and talk with Red a bit.  The kid's been more irritable than usual the past couple of days, probably because of the prospect of more students arriving tomorrow, and you're one of the only people he really listens to since arriving back in July.  They're worried he might try to pick a fight with some of the new arrivals when they start showing up tomorrow.”

 

Zephyr cast a sidelong glance at Vic, which the younger boy noted briefly before quickly averting his eyes.

 

“And the second message?” Zephyr asked grudgingly.

 

“Pops wants you to meet him downstairs in his office.  He wants to go over a few things with you before the big meeting with admin tomorrow morning.”

 

Vic watched as Zephyr tensed ever so slightly, flexing his wings and standing up just a little bit straighter before letting out a deep breath.

 

“Well, I guess I'd better see to that first then,” he replied, the shift in his tone surprising Vic with its suddenness.  He didn't sound nearly so angry anymore, but rather it was almost...resigned?  “I'll head down there now.  Don't want to keep Mr. Filbert waiting.”

 

And with that he stepped past Shawn towards the door, leaving Vic utterly stunned.  What had happened to the guy that was berating him for something he hadn't even done?  He was going to leave, just like that?

 

Before leaving however, Zephyr paused at the door before turning back to meet Vic's gaze with his hawkish glare.

 

“Don't look so surprised that I'm walking out.  I know when I have more important things to take care of.  You just remember what I said.  I'm still your RA and I'm still going to be keeping an eye on you.”

 

Vic couldn't help gulping down the lump in his throat as the older student walked out.  His surprise and worry must have shown on his face as well, because Shawn spoke up again only a moment later.

 

“Don't worry too much about him,” the shaggy-haired student said slowly.  “We've never really gotten along in the two years that we've both been here, but he really is a good guy where it counts.  He's just got some personal issues he's still working out, on top of the fact that he didn't want to be an RA this year in the first place.”

 

Vic found that a bit shocking and hard to believe, given how forceful the guy had been mere moments ago.

 

“He didn't?”

 

“Nope, thought never even crossed his mind, and likely never would have if Pops, that'd be Mr. Filbert our houseparent, hadn't personally asked him at the end of last year.  Even then he refused at first, until both Canis and finally Mrs. Carson herself encouraged him to have a go at it.”

 

Vic's mind boggled at that.  He'd heard about Mrs. Carson, the school's headmistress who was also the powerful superheroine known to the world at large as Lady Astarte, and to think that she was personally involved in advising his apparent RA...that was rather mind blowing.

 

Shawn turned to look Vic in the face and chuckled at his bewildered expression.

 

“Sorry, bro.  Information overload, I guess.”

 

“Maybe just a bit,” Vic replied slowly with a shake of his head.

 

“Just know that he's had it rougher than most ever since manifesting and growing those wings, which has led to him being VERY protective of anyone with obvious GSD.  He's actually an enforcer of sorts for Faction Three, the campus group for GSD students, and I'm afraid he's pretty serious about making sure they aren't messed with.  So just don't be a douche to anyone that looks odd and he shouldn't give you too much trouble.”

 

Vic nodded his understanding with wide eyes.  A whole group on campus for GSD students?  And he happened to get one of the more outspoken ones as his wing adviser.  That was pretty much just his luck.

 

“Well, anyways, on a lighter note,” Shawn continued with a grin as he offered his hand to Vic, “the name's Shawn.  Shawn Padilla.  Though most people around here just call me Shaggy, for obvious reasons.”  He motioned with his free hand to indicate the state of his hair.  “Who would have thought a BIT could be so lamely annoying, huh?”

 

Vic tried not to stare.  “You mean?”

 

“Yep.  It's permanently like this.  Doesn't matter what I do to it.  Even cutting it doesn't work.”

 

“I guess that would be pretty annoying.”  Vic smiled a bit.  Shaggy was turning out to be much friendlier than Zephyr had.

 

“Anyways, I'm the wing adviser for the northeast wing, just down the hall,” Shaggy continued, before giving Vic a meaningful look.  “If you really need anything and Zephyr isn't cooperating, just let me know and I'll see what I can do. Okay?”

 

Yep, definitely friendlier.  “I'll keep that in mind,” Vic replied with a nod. “Thanks.”

 

“Well, alright then.” Shaggy smiled before casting a quick glance around the room.  “I guess I'll leave you to finish getting settled in.  I need to go check on a couple of my own new arrivals from this afternoon.  Oh, and if those sheets I brought you don't fit the bed for whatever reason, just come let me know and we'll get some other ones, okay?”

 

“Alright.  See you around, Shaggy.”

 

“Count on it,” the upperclassman replied with a grin before turning and walking out the door, gently closing it behind him.

 

For a moment, Vic just stood where he was, staring at the door.  Why couldn't he have ended up with Shaggy as his wing adviser?  That almost certainly would have made the upcoming months a lot easier, since he wouldn't have to be constantly worried about toeing the line like he apparently would with Zephyr.  Not that he intended to be mean to any of his classmates anyways, GSD or not, but knowing that he was being watched was just another worry on top of everything else.  With a sigh, he turned his attention back to settling in.  It wasn't anything that could be helped at this point anyways, so he might as well do as Shawn suggested.

 

With the contents of his duffel all put away, he turned his attention to the backpack that Carol had given him.  It was rather nondescript, mostly black with some gray highlights, so he knew it would go with most anything, and it looked to be quite well made too, so it should hold up to a lot of use.  Neither of these two details surprised him, given the line of work Carol was involved in.  But upon opening it up, he WAS pleasantly surprised to find two new pairs of jeans in his size and a couple of nice polo shirts, though he couldn't help blushing when he found the pack of fresh boxers, especially when he realized they were the exact same style and brand as what he already had.  Apparently Carol knew more about him than he had previously assumed, and that thought was more than a little embarrassing.  Sure, according to all the paperwork her employers had arranged she was technically his legal guardian now, but that didn't mean she had to know what kind of underwear he preferred.

 

But that wasn't all that was in the backpack either.  Buried under the clothing was a small box wrapped in ordinary brown packing paper, and there was also a plain white envelope with his name on it.  Deciding that whatever was in the envelope was probably more important, he decided to open that first, revealing a handwritten letter and two plastic cards, one red and one blue.  Ignoring the cards for the moment, he recognized the handwriting of the letter as being Carol's.

 

Hey, Vic, I hope you're safe and comfortable at Whateley by the time you read this. If you are, then congratulations on making the trip.  If you're still on the way, then I hope the rest of the trip goes smoothly.  If you're not there because something has gone wrong, then call me as soon as you can and I'll do my best to help.

 

I hope the clothing that I've included with this is to your liking.  I know you don't have much at this point, so I included just some basic things to get you started.  Of course, I was also a teenager once myself, so I know you'll be needing more, and you also need to define a style of your own, which is why I've included the blue debit card for you.  The red one is a charge card from my employers, and should only be used for your uniforms, textbooks, and other necessities for school, but the blue card is from me personally and has five hundred dollars on it for your personal use.  I know the past few months have been tough for you, so feel free to treat yourself to a few luxuries.  I'm trusting you to not go TOO overboard with it, as it probably won't stretch as far as you think.  You might want to think about getting a job on campus if you want more than that, as I won't be able to send you too much regularly.

 

Beyond that, I just want you to relax as much as you can and get settled in.  Don't worry about any “requests” coming from my employers for the time being.  They might be paying your school bill, but you'll have plenty enough stress from your new schoolmates and classes, and they recognize that.  You've got plenty of time before you even have to worry about hearing from them.

 

Take care, and call me or video chat when you get the chance, even if there's no trouble.  I'd love to hear from you, and I could even introduce you to my daughter.  She's heard a lot about you from me, and she's already told me she'd like to meet the boy her mommy is helping.

 

Your friend,

Carol

 

P.S.  The phone is your stepsister's doing.  Originally I was including one from my employers, but she liked that idea even less than I did, so she provided one to replace it with.  And that was after all the trouble she went through to get you away from the police. I hope you know that she cares about you a lot, and regardless of how you still feel about your father and his family, I hope you'll get back in touch with her at least.  Both of our contact information is already programmed into the phone, so that won't be an excuse. Take care, Vic.  Hope to hear from you soon.

 

With shaking hands, Vic let the letter fall from his hands as he reached for the wrapped box and tore into it.  Removing its contents, he took a moment to wipe at the moisture forming at the corners of his eyes.

 

As he stared at the phone in his hand, he couldn't help feeling more than a little bit grateful. It might be last year's model, but it was certainly better than the old flip phone he'd left behind when he first took to the streets.  It had a high quality touch screen, was small and compact without being too much so, and more importantly for his own considerations, came with a case that made it not only very durable but also waterproof.  Most importantly though, was who it came from.  Ronni, or Veronica as most people knew her, had been away at college when he'd left home.  She hadn't been there when he overheard his dad and stepmother talking about him.  If she had been, he might have gone to her rather than taking to the streets with his best friend, Josh.  She'd been the only one in Dad's family that understood him, other than Oliver at least, but he was...

 

Vic took a sharp breath as he forced himself to stop that train of thought.  Oliver was gone now, and that was all there was to it.  His dad and stepmother had both admitted it would have been better for their family if he'd never been born.  And Ronni...Ronni hadn't been there when he needed her.  The fact that she couldn't have known what was going on didn't matter, she still wasn't there.

 

He'd had no other choice when he left, and he wasn't about to regret that decision now, even after all the hardship it had caused him.

 

But still...

 

He glanced at the phone in his hands.  Did not regretting his decision mean he couldn't make amends with Ronni at least?  She HAD gone through a lot to help him out of a bad situation, and she hadn't tried to hold him back when he told her he had his own plans for the future that didn't involve her family anymore.  And now this...

 

The phone felt oddly heavy in his hands as the thoughts in his head whirled about.  Was it worth it to try and reconnect with her?  Wouldn't that just lead to more conflict whenever she eventually tried to bring him back to his dad and her mom?  Would she even try to do that?  Was that possibility worth cutting off someone who was doing so much to help him?

 

Wrestling with his thoughts, Vic set aside the phone and reached for the old shoe box that held his most personal items.  And sitting right on top as he opened it up was the one that he was looking for.  Shifting over to his desk, he opened up the bi-fold picture frame in the top left corner, a place of honor where it could watch over anything he was working on there.  In the right hand frame was a picture of himself, Josh, and Oliver, the three amigos as it were, with Ronni in the background giving Oliver a pair of bunny ears.  That had been taken...before.  When things had been somewhat better with his family, even if they weren't great.  Vic could honestly say he missed those times, and wished he could have his friends back.  He kept that picture so he could remember those good times, even though he knew he'd never see them again.

 

But the picture in the left hand frame though...he kept that one for a different reason.  He was in that picture as well, but he was much younger.  He was just a baby in fact, being held in the arms of the most beautiful woman he'd ever known, and the one he most wished he could talk to right now.

 

“Hi, Mom,” he said slowly, his throat growing tight as it usually did.  “It's been a while since we talked, and a lot has changed since then, so I kind of figured we should catch up a bit.”  He returned the brown-haired woman's smile as he sat down on the corner of his bed, then motioned with his arm to show her the room.  “I made it to Whateley, Mom, just like I said I would.  You always wanted me to get into a really good school and make something great of myself, and well, this is about as good as it gets for people like you and me.”

 

A lump formed in his throat, causing him to pause, and despite himself, he felt a small pang of regret as he thought about how he'd gotten here.  “It wasn't the easiest road, and I know I did some things to get here that you wouldn't be very proud of, but I hope...” he paused again, his lip trembling involuntarily and his eyes glistening, “...I hope you can still be proud of me anyways.”

 

His mother's hazel eyes seemed to sparkle back at him, allowing him to imagine for just a moment that she would understand.  That she would indeed be proud of him for making it this far, even if it wasn't by means she would have chosen for him.

 

“I...I miss you, Mom,” Vic continued, taking just a moment to wipe the moisture from his eyes.  “I've lost you, and Oliver, and now Josh.  Dad thinks I'm nothing more than a burden.  I've made some new friends on the way here, but I hardly know anything about them and they barely know me, so it's just not the same as having someone to talk to that really understands me.”  His breath caught for a moment as he thought about his words, prompting him to glance at the phone lying next to him on the bed.  Looking back at his mom's picture, he could practically see the approval in her smile.

 

“Thanks, Mom,” he replied as a sad smile crossed his face, “I guess I needed that.  I promise we'll talk like this more often now that I'm here.  I love you, and we'll talk again soon.”

 

In a matter of moments, he had the phone powered on and Ronni's number pulled up.

 

line break short

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Whitman Cottage – Evening

 

“So...” Sequoia began cautiously as she and Tanya crested the stairs from Whitman's basement level and stepped back into the ground floor common room, “you seem awfully quiet at the moment.”  More than seeming quiet, it looked to her like something was bothering the younger girl, though she had no idea what that something might be.  “Penny for you thoughts?”

 

Tanya hesitated a bit before replying, still trying to wrap her own head around exactly what she was feeling.  The tour of the cottage had been great so far, so much better than the rushed, half-finished glimpse of the campus in general that she'd gotten earlier.  Sequioa had first taken her around the ground floor to show her the housemothers' apartments, the study rooms and two small libraries, and even the two small kitchens that students could use if they wanted.  Then she'd been taken downstairs to see the workout rooms, storage areas, and a few other surprising amenities.  Tanya had been particularly impressed by the multipurpose party room that could also serve as a theater or gameroom depending on how it was set up, although the rooms with the hot tubs and saunas had been certainly noteworthy as well.  Yet, for all that everything was nice and even exciting to see, she couldn't help noticing that something seemed to be missing.

 

“Everything feels so...I don't know...empty, I guess?” she finally managed to reply, giving Sequoia a nervous look.  “I just spent the last twenty four hours with a bunch of new friends on the way here, but they're all in other cottages.  Now I get here, and I've only seen two people so far, one of whom I mistook for a cat.”  Her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment at that statement and she looked away, missing the taller girl's knowing smile.

 

Bending down at the knees so that she could be eye to eye with Tanya, Sequoia placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.  “Well, in all honesty, it IS rather easy to do that with Shisa,” she said with a brief chuckle before letting her voice become a bit more serious.  “Although I do think I understand what you mean.”  She paused for a moment to give Tanya a thoughtful look.  “Did you have a lot of friends back home that you left behind to come here?”

 

“No,” Tanya replied slowly, her voice cracking ever so slightly.  “I couldn't really.  With my mom and a lot of my family's close friends being supers, there was always the danger that I might let something slip and they'd be found out.  I have a cousin who's about a year younger than me that I'd see from time to time, and there were a few guys I'd go running with regularly, but beyond that, no one really.”  Then she gave a halfhearted chuckle of her own but still didn't turn to meet Sequoia's gaze.  “Last night in the hotel was the first time I've ever even shared a room with anyone who wasn't a relative or one of the Wardens.”

 

“Ah, I get it then,” Sequoia responded with a nod.  “You bonded really quickly with these other friends and now the fact that they're not here with you has you anxious about whether or not you'll be able to do the same thing again with your cottage-mates here in Whitman.  And the fact that there really aren't that many students here yet, since they're supposed to start arriving tomorrow, just serves to emphasize that anxiety for you.  Does that sound about right?”

 

Tanya looked thoughtful for a moment before giving a timid nod.  “Yeah, I think that's about right.”  An embarrassed shrug quickly followed.  “I know I'm just being silly, since I know I'm actually here earlier than I'm supposed to be, but that IS pretty much how I feel, and you...”

 

“And I did ask you for your thoughts, yes,” Sequoia finished for her.  “That's not being silly, Tanya, that's just being honest, which is a very good quality to be expressing so soon after getting here.  It's perfectly normal to be a bit anxious about making new friends in a new place, especially if you've never had many before.”  She gave Tanya a warm smile when the younger girl finally looked back to meet her gaze.  “And if it's any encouragement to you, judging from what I've seen so far, I don't think you're going to have any trouble making more friends here.  A lot of the girls that are already here NEED someone like you, someone who'll be honest and real with them, rather than putting on a mask like so many do when they're around kids with GSD.  And you can bet a lot of the girls who arrive tomorrow and the next day will be in the same boat.”

 

“You really think so?” Tanya asked plaintively with a shy smile as she nervously fiddled with the straps of her bags.

 

“Yes, I really do,” Sequoia replied with an encouraging nod as she stood back up to her impressive height.  “I think you're going to fit in around here just fine.  In fact, now that we've gone through the basement and ground floors, the next stop is upstairs on your floor, so why don't we head on up and you can see for yourself what some of the others are like?”

 

Tanya's eyes shot wide open as the color drained from her cheeks.  “What? Now? Already?”

 

“Sure, why not?” Sequoia chuckled in response.  “I mean, you DO have to go up there and meet everyone at some point, so there's no time like the present, and then we can show you to your room so you can stop carrying those bags around.”

 

“Umm...exactly how many girls are up there right now?” Tanya asked nervously, glancing up at the ceiling as if to try and see whoever might be above them.

 

“Not many,” replied Sequoia as she turned back to the stairs.  “A few of the girls have significant enough GSD that traveling is a major challenge, so they came earlier as best they could.  And a couple of others, like Shisa for example, actually live here on campus because they don't have anywhere else to go.”

 

Tanya nodded solemnly at that.  She'd heard about situations like that often enough, when a kid would manifest as a mutant and subsequently be thrown out of the house or worse.  It was pretty much the exact opposite of what her own situation had been like, and she was honestly a bit anxious about how to relate to someone who'd faced that.  But before she could dwell on that for too long, she found herself having to suddenly stop as Sequoia paused before taking the stairs.  The older girl turned and gave Tanya an odd smile that seemed to be half embarrassed and half amused.

 

“You know, I guess I'm just so used to using the stairs myself that I completely forgot to ask if you might prefer using the elevator.”  She nodded off to the side, where Tanya could see the elevator doors waiting.  Giving it a quick moment of consideration, Tanya responded with a wry grin before activating her PK with a thought and lifting up a few inches off the floor.

 

“Well if I REALLY wanted to I could just fly up through the atrium,” she said as she motioned with her arm to indicate the open space above on the other side of the staircase, “but given that I'd probably freeze up if I ran into someone else without you there to help with introductions, the stairs are fine with me.”  Then, as if to prove her point, she let her PK drop while she was still in the air, causing her to drop effortlessly back down to her feet with a smile.

 

“Oh, bother,” Sequoia replied with a half-suppressed chuckle and a roll of her eyes.  “Looks like we have a shy show-off on our hands.  Nice glow, by the way,” she added with a nod in Tanya's direction, causing the shorter girl to grimace as her cheeks flushed.  “Now you've got me interested to hear more about your powers, but I'll wait and listen when you tell the others, so you don't have to say it twice.  Now come on, we've kept everyone else waiting long enough.

 

line break short

 

After stepping off of the stairs into the common room, Tanya suddenly felt a meddlesome lump in her throat.  For the most part the room was empty, but there was a group of girls gathered around a large coffee table next to another of the faux fireplaces like she'd seen downstairs.  They seemed to all be wrapped up in some sort of card game, even to the point that none of them had noticed her and Sequoia arrive yet.  And judging from the smirk on Sequoia's face, it looked like she was content just to wait and see how long it would be until they were noticed.

 

“Ace of spades.”

 

“Four of spades.”

 

“Jack of spades. Hearts.”

 

“All hail the King of Hearts!”

 

“And now for something completely different.”

 

“Seven of spades.  Have a nice day.”

 

“Thank you very much.”

 

“Eight of spades.”

 

“Five of spades.”

 

“Penalty card from playing out of turn.”

 

“What? No way! I dinna'...”

 

“Penalty card for talking.”

 

“Nine of Spades.”

 

Tanya was utterly confused.  She'd never seen a game like that before.  She cast a sideways glance at Sequoia, who just smiled before putting a finger to her lips.  Quietly turning her attention back to the gathering, Tanya tried to see what she could tell about the girls as they were playing.  Some were definitely more notable than others.

 

The one who seemed to be directing the game, if only because she was the one handing out “penalty cards,” was an older looking girl with icy blue hair as her only apparent oddity.  Tanya guessed that she must be one of the other RA's.  On the other hand, the girl who seemed to be having the most trouble with the game was covered in what looked to be thick, grayish fur and sported claws on her hands and feet, as well as a pair of distinctly wolf-like ears.  She looked pretty much like a classic werewolf, save that she didn't really have much of a snout.  She did have a pretty strong accent though, which Tanya guessed was either Irish or Scottish, though she wasn't sure which.  Another girl had thick, bushy golden hair and honest-to-goodness goat legs, and still another somewhat larger girl had the distinctive black and white fur of a giant panda.  There was also a girl with black spiraling horns on her head, a normal looking girl with jet black hair in a pixie cut, a younger looking girl with long blonde locks, an Arabic looking girl with a dark green head-wrap, and two apparent cat-girls with their distinctive ears and fur.  Then there was one girl wearing a hoodie with her hood up, so Tanya couldn't tell much about her, though it did look like she had scales or something on her hands.

 

And finally, sitting on the back of one of the couches in a perfect perch to watch rather than play the game, there was a form Tanya recognized.  Shisa's cloak, which she had indeed gone and retrieved apparently, looked a lot like one of those harnesses that service animals wear to let people know they aren't just pets, though this one seemed to have more fabric than most and even had what looked like a couple of small pouches on the sides.  More important than what she was wearing though, was the fact that she alone seemed to have noticed the two newcomers, and was quietly staring at them with rapt attention.  Tanya offered her a little wave, to which she responded with a distinctly amused expression and a wave of her tail.

 

“Diamonds.”

 

“Long live the Queen.”

 

“Have a nice day.”

 

“Have a very nice day.”

 

“Have a very, very nice day.”

 

“Ugh...thank ya' very much.”

 

“Penalty card for not saying 'Thank you very, very, VERY much.'”

 

“ARGHHH!!!”

 

“Penalty card for...”

 

“Mrowr!”  Shisa's meow wasn't really all that loud, but apparently it was enough to make one of the girls, namely the older looking of the two cat-girls, look up from the game and take notice of the two new faces.

 

“Point of Order!” she said abruptly to the assembled players, prompting everyone around the table to immediately set down their cards.  “Gonna have to pause the game for a bit, girls.  Looks like we need to welcome a new fellow Whitmaniac.”  She nodded in Tanya's direction with a smirk, prompting Tanya to blush vehemently as eleven sets of eyes all turned to focus on her.

 

“Umm...hi?” Tanya said timidly with a small wave of her hand as she felt the heat rush to her cheeks, before casting a sidelong glance up at Sequoia, practically begging for her help.  The RA let out an exasperated sigh before chuckling and stepping forward.  Of course, the fact that she put her hand on Tanya's shoulder and urged her a couple steps forward as well kind of negated any sense of “help” Tanya had been expecting.

 

“Okay, everyone, this is Tanya, the girl we've been expecting since yesterday.  Apparently she's had quite the trip getting here, so why don't we all help make her feel at home?”

 

As if that was their cue, most of the girls stood up from their various seats and walked over, though Tanya noticed that it was the wolf-girl and the one in the hoodie that stayed seated, giving her nervous looks.  She had a strong feeling that they were concerned about how she would react to their obviously inhuman features, and that thought saddened her just a bit.

 

On the other hand, it was the girl with the goat legs that reached Tanya first and immediately wrapped her in a friendly and welcoming hug.  Tanya honestly hadn't been expecting that, and tensed up ever so slightly for just a moment.

 

“Oh, sorry, I guess you're not really the hugging type, are you?” the girl responded with a genuinely apologetic smile.  Her sparkling, amber-colored eyes didn't look the least bit disappointed though, if anything she was just embarrassed.  “I'm Dawn, by the way.  Or Dawn-Renae is you want to be formal.  Or if you'd rather use my codename, it's Toison.”

 

Tanya couldn't help giving the girl a confused look at the funny sounding name.

 

“Tas...Twa...”

 

The girl honestly giggled a bit at that.

 

“You pronounce it like 'Twa-sone',” she explained again slowly.  “It's French for fleece.”  She motioned down at her legs and the thick, golden fur that covered them above her cloven hooves.  “I...I kind of thought it was appropriate,” she added with a blush.

 

“Well, when you explain it like, it definitely makes sense to me,” Tanya replied with just a hint of her own embarrassment.  Then she held out her hand for the other girl to shake.  “Tanya Wright, or Invictus, which is Latin for 'unconquered.'  It's nice to meet you.”

 

The girl raised a quizzical eyebrow as she accepted the handshake, but it was the girl standing just behind her, the normal looking one with black hair, that chose that moment to speak up.

 

“'Unconquered,' huh?  Dare I ask what sort of powers you might have to merit that sort of name?”

“Exemplar 2, PK 4,” Tanya rattled off almost instinctively even as she turned her attention to the curious girl.  Mutant powers was one topic she felt more than confident enough to talk about, and she latched onto the opportunity to focus the conversation on that.  “Specifically, I'm a PK Brick, or PK supergirl if you want to be even more accurate.  When I have my PK active, I can lift up to 3.12 tons and take more than a little bit of damage without a problem, even low to mid caliber bullets.  I can also fly at up to about 45 miles per hour with pretty good maneuverability, although I'm not very good at that yet, so I might be even faster once I have some training.”

 

Dawn let out a low whistle at that, causing Tanya to blush yet again.  Quite a few of the girls now gathered around were giving appreciative nods as well, and even Sequoia looked rather impressed.

 

“Very impressive,” the dark haired girl replied with a nod of her own, before holding out her own hand.  “Kara O'Keegan.  Nightingale.  Shadow manifestor, esper, and low level mage, although I'm not actually a mutant.”

 

Now it was Tanya's turn to raise an eyebrow as she returned the handshake.  Kara just gave a resigned sigh before indicating the black choker around her neck that Tanya hadn't noticed before.

 

“Family heirloom.  My aunt was the previous Nightingale, and a superheroine, and this was the source of her powers.  It's bonded to me now, and can't be removed until I'm dead, so it's pretty much like having mutant powers.  Between that and the fact that the villain I sort of stole it back from is still out there looking for me and my friends...” she paused for a moment to indicate the younger blond girl standing next to her, “...who ARE both mutants, let's just say Whateley was willing to cut me some slack and let me enroll anyway.”  The girl finished with a bit of a smug grin, which Tanya honestly couldn't blame her for.  At least it was nice to know she wasn't the only one present who'd already had some villain trouble and was personally acquainted with supers.

 

“Wow, sounds like you've got quite the story there,” Tanya replied with grin.  “And it's good to know that I'm not the only one with a super in the family.”  She beamed proudly at that, but the moment passed quickly when she noticed Kara's companion's shoulders sag and her eyes fall to the ground.  Kara and Dawn both noticed as well and immediately moved to wrap the younger girl in a hug.  Tanya immediately felt guilty, though she didn't know what the problem was.  “Umm...was it something I said?”

 

Kara looked up with an apologetic smile and a gentle shake of her head.  “No, it was my fault for bringing the subject up.”  She nodded down at her friend as she stepped back from her hug, but still kept a supportive hand on her shoulder.  “Darcy still has a tough time talking about what happened that night.  Her dad...” a pained expression flashed briefly across Kara's face, “...he...didn't survive the fight.  And her mom is out there looking for the guy who did it while she and her b...big sister are stuck here at Whateley with me, for our own protection.”

 

Tanya felt a pang in her heart at the girl's words, and she looked at the younger girl, Darcy apparently, with a renewed sense of compassion.  Stepping up to her, she offered the girl a hug of her own, which was briefly accepted before being met with a look of confusion.

 

“I lost my mom a few years ago, when I was nine.”  Tanya swallowed the lump in her throat.  Even after all this time it was still tough to talk about, so she knew exactly what Darcy was feeling.  “She was crushed beneath a collapsing building while trying to rescue people after a fight with a villain.”

 

The girl's eyes widened in shock for just a moment, before a sad, thoughtful look settled onto her face.

 

“That...must have been tough on you,” she whispered softly, not really looking Tanya in the eye.

 

Tanya nodded.  “It was...and still is at times.”  She gave the girl a hopefully encouraging pat on the shoulder.  “So I do know at least a little bit of what you're going through right now.  If you ever want to talk about it...”  She left the offer unsaid, in part because she didn't think it needed to be said, but also because she wasn't a hundred percent sure about it herself.  Talking about what had happened and how she felt about it wasn't something she did often, not at all really, but she knew she could try to push through it if Darcy really needed to talk.

 

For a moment, Darcy didn't react.  Then she hesitantly gave Tanya a sad smile.  “I...I'll think about it.”

 

Tanya nodded at that and gave the girl another pat on the shoulder before she turned back to Kara and wrapped her in another hug.  For her part, Kara mouthed a silent “Thank you” to Tanya before slowly escorting Darcy back over to one of the couches, making room for the others who still wanted to greet the new girl.  Once the pair were seated, Tanya watched as Shisa jumped down and nuzzled up onto the younger girl's lap, purring softly.  She couldn't help smiling when Darcy reached down and started stroking her classmate behind the ears.  Then a quick glance back at Sequoia rewarded her with the older girl's slightly tearful nod of approval.

 

After that, everyone was silent for a few moments, right up until the older girl with blue hair decided to  break the ice again in a rather unusual manner.  With just a flick of her wrists, an icy breeze suddenly stirred up around everyone's legs.  Tanya shuddered as the chill ran up past her shorts and up her spine, but at least she didn't have the problem that Dawn and a few of the others did, namely having to quickly hold their skirts down.  Despite the brief discomfort, Tanya smiled inwardly for a moment.  Shorts one, skirts zero, as usual.

 

“Janette!” Dawn shouted as her cheeks flushed and the breeze died down, turning her glare on the older girl.  “What was that for?!”  There were several other similar annoyed glares that joined hers as everyone turned their attention on the smirking upperclassman.

 

“Well, now that everyone's eyes are on me, shall we continue with the introductions?”  The older girl flicked her blue hair to the side once before stepping up to Tanya and offering her hand.  “Janette McDonald.  Polar Vortex.  I'm a junior and the RA for the northwest wing on this floor.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Tanya replied as she returned the handshake and looked the girl up and down.  If she was honest with herself, she was pretty jealous.  She was tall and lean, but not too tall like Sequoia, with a confidence that seemed to just radiate off of her like heat waves.  And her bust was pretty generous too, which DEFINITELY made Tanya jealous.  About the only thing about her that Tanya wasn't impressed by was her cold hands, which DID give the girl a sudden thought though.  “Or would it be more appropriate to say it's 'cool' to meet you?”

 

“Ughh!” Janette mockingly groaned in response, pulling back her hand to clutch at her chest.  “It hurts!  The bad jokes, they do wound me so!”  Tanya couldn't help it.  She honestly giggled at that, as did several of the others.

 

“Oh, please,” interrupted another voice, belonging to the older cat-girl who'd paused the game to begin the introductions.  She stepped forward and gave Janette a playful punch in the shoulder.  “If that was the case you'd have died of blood loss ages ago from your own sense of humor.”

 

“Ahem, are you saying I have poor taste in jokes, Kat?”

 

“Only if the snow-shoe fits.”  That prompted another round of giggles as the cat-girl turned to face Tanya with a mischievous grin, sweeping her tail across her fellow upperclassman's face in the process.

 

Achoo!!!  “Dang it, Kat, you did that on purpose!”

 

“Bless you, dear.  Now if you don't mind, you did say we should continue this little meet and greet.”  She gave Tanya a sly grin and a wink.  “I'm Telekat, though I also go by Kat, Kate, Katherine, or just TK depending on who I'm talking with, so you can use whichever you'd like.  I'm the RA for the northeast wing, just across the hall from the chick with the cold fetish who's mildly allergic to having her nose tickled.”

 

“Hey, I do not have a cold fetish!”

 

“Okay, girls, I think that's enough of that,” Sequoia interjected with a long-suffering sigh, before giving Tanya a meaningful look.  “And Tanya, you'll be rooming on the northeast wing, so Telekat here will be your primary RA, okay?”

 

“O...okay,” Tanya replied with a nod and a gulp, reflexively standing up just a little bit straighter as she realized she was being introduced to the student who would be primarily responsible for her for the coming year.  “It's g...good to meet you, Telekat.”  She was definitely nervous as the cat-girl gave her a quick but critical once over.

 

“Hmm...a bit on the shy side, but you had the presence of mind to throw out a joke at Jeanne, so I think you'll warm up to everyone quickly enough.”  She cast a quick sidelong glance at Darcy over on the couch and at Dawn as well.  “Caring, and you've handled the GSD in the room well enough so far, so that's a potential plus.”  She gave a last look at how Tanya was standing before giving a slow nod.  “Seem to be polite and respectful too.  I think you'll be a pretty good addition to the wing.”

 

Tanya relaxed ever so slightly as she let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

 

“On the other hand, you are kind of short and scrawny, and definitely a little bit flat, but you've got plenty of time to grow out of that.”

 

“Kat!”  Sequoia snapped firmly, even as Tanya winced at the comment.

 

“What?” Kat asked quickly, a look of genuine confusion on her face.  “It was just an observation.  I didn't mean anything bad by it.”

 

“As an RA you still shouldn't be saying things like that,” the older girl replied as she rubbed at her temples.  “People can be very sensitive about that kind of thing.”

 

“Oh...” the catgirl replied slowly, while her cheeks had the decency to briefly flush red.  She cast an apologetic look at Tanya, who did her best to hide the sting she'd felt.  “I hope that didn't bother you.  I really wasn't thinking about that when I said it.”

 

“Not at all,” Tanya replied with a forced smile, wishing this particular turn of the conversation would just hurry up and pass.  “I know I'm a bit of a late bloomer, and I've heard plenty of things like that before.  It's no big deal.”

 

A look of honest relief flashed across Telekat's face as she blew out a breath.  “Well, that's a good thing then.”  Then she turned back to Sequoia.  “See?  No harm done.”

 

Tanya didn't miss how Sequoia palmed her forehead and let out another sigh.  “Sure, TK.  Just try to keep it in mind for next time, okay?”

 

“Don't worry, Rachel, if she says something that boneheaded again, I'll be sure to let her know about it.”  At those words, Tanya turned to see that they had come from the girl who looked like she was part panda, and who had been pretty quiet up to this point.  The glare she was giving Telekat seemed to be mostly in jest, but Tanya could pick out just a hint of seriousness as well.  When she turned her eyes back to Tanya that gaze softened with a faint smile, and it looked like she might have blushed a bit, but Tanya couldn't really be sure because of the fur on her face.

 

“Hi,” she said as she gave a small wave with one of her rather large hands.  “I guess I'll go next then. I'm Marcie Blovotsky, codename is Bai Yun, and before you ask, I'm from California, not China.  I'm the third junior RA on the floor, taking the southwest wing, while Rachel here has her small batch of sophomores on the southeast.”  She nodded to Sequoia at that.  “And while it might seem like we're making a big deal out of who's in charge of what wing, that's mostly just so you know where each of us will most likely be.  Feel free to come to any of the four of us if you need anything, though that'll most often be TK for you, just out of convenience.”

 

Tanya nodded her understanding, already liking Marcie for how informative she was.  “Thanks, I'll definitely remember that.”

 

“And speaking of sophomores,” interjected the horned girl as she stepped up to give her own greeting, “don't feel like you can only go to the RA's for help.  Most of us sophes don't bite, and we've been here for a while as well, so it's not like we can't give help if you need it.”

 

“Eh, speak for yourself, Mal.”

 

Tanya turned to see that it was the other catgirl who'd spoken up.  While Telekat had more of a tawny coloration, this one's ears, hair, and visible patches of fur were all snow white, which contrasted sharply with her dark tank top and jeans, not to mention the tarnished chain that she had wrapped around her waist instead of a belt.

 

“Well, I did say MOST of us, Lil,” the horned girl shot back before giving Tanya an apologetic look.  “Don't mind her too much.  That's Mad Cat, or Lillian, and she's gruff with just about everyone.”  Then she finally offered her hand for Tanya to shake.  “I'm Malefis, or Caroline.  It's nice to meet you.”

 

Tanya shook the proffered hand with a warm smile of her own.  “Thanks.  It's nice to meet you too.”

 

With a nod, Caroline stepped back and headed back to her seat.  Turning to see if Mad Cat would follow her classmate, Tanya was surprised to see that the catgirl was already gone.  In fact, she was already seated back in her own place, though Tanya hadn't even seen her move.  Having noticed the new girl's confusion, Dawn leaned over to whisper in her ear.  “Mad Cat is a teleporter, in case you were wondering.”

 

“Oooohhh...gotcha,” Tanya replied slowly as comprehension dawned on her face.  Then she turned to meet the last of the girls who had walked over to greet her, who was nervously picking at the edge of her head-scarf.  Tanya decided it might be best if she initiated things this time, so she offered the girl her hand first.

 

“Hi.  I'm Tanya, and it's a pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Sillaw,” the girl replied instinctively, before cringing in embarrassment.  “Er...sorry.  Hello.  My name is Avsel.  Pleased to meet you.”  The girl still didn't accept Tanya's hand, and she looked visibly frustrated with herself.  Tanya could guess why, given that the halting way that she spoke reminded her of Kenshin.  Before she could say anything though, Sequoia had stepped up next to the girl and put an encouraging hand on her shoulder.

 

“Avsel here is from Kurdistan,” she explained briefly.  “She's only been in the States since June, so she's still having some trouble with her English, and that tends to get her down from time to time.”

 

Tanya nodded her understanding, but still looked the slightly taller girl in the eye.  “I think your English sounded really good, especially if you've only been here a few months.”

 

Avsel smiled at that.  “My brother taught me...before, but I was not very good.  I'm getting better since coming here.”

 

“Well that's definitely good.  I'm sure you'll sound like a natural in no time.”  Tanya paused for a moment as a thought came to mind.  “And that word you said...sillaw?  Is that how you say hello is Kurdish?”

 

“Y...yes,” Avsel responded hesitantly with a nod.

 

“Cool,” Tanya replied with a grin.  “I'll have to remember that.  Never know when something like that might be useful.”

 

Avsel smiled again.  “Thank you, Tanya.  It is indeed nice to meet you.  I hope I get to know you more in the future.”  Finally, she reached out to her own hand for Tanya to shake.  “Friends?”

 

Tanya happily took the offered hand with a smile.  “Of course,” she readily agreed.  “Friends.”

 

“Umm...Tanya?”

 

Tanya turned at the sound of Dawn's voice, and was surprised to see that she now had both the wolf-girl and the girl in the hoodie standing behind her.  “Yeah, Dawn?”

 

She stepped to the side to let wolf girl step forward.  “These are two more of my friends, Lesley and Ekene.  They're still kind of hesitant about meeting you, but they'd like to at least say hi.”

 

Tanya nodded in response, doing her best to meet the wolf girl's gaze rather than looking her up and down while she offered her hand.  “I like the way you have your hair braided.  I think it goes well with the pattern of your fur.”  The girl's eyes expressed her surprise at the comment as she returned the handshake very gingerly, obviously being very careful with her claws.

 

“Yer nah afraid of me.”  It was a statement, not a question, but there was still a hint of confusion beneath her accent that Tanya was able to detect.  Tanya felt a pang of sadness about that.

 

“Nope,” she was able to confidently reply with only the slightest of nerves tinging her own voice.  “I'll admit that I'm a bit nervous, but that has more to do with meeting so many new people than with your GSD.  You're a bit unnerving at first glance, but I've known people who are honestly scarier.”

 

That statement was met with one raised bushy gray eyebrow, prompting Tanya to let out a sigh.

 

“Have you ever heard of a hero here in the states named Nemean?”

 

The wolf girl's eyebrow stayed raised, but the hooded girl behind her shifted a bit.

 

“The Nemean that used to work with the Cajun Criminal Counter Force in New Orleans?”

 

“Yep,” Tanya replied with a nod.  “He's worked with the River City Wardens in Memphis for almost five years now, the same team that my mom used to be a part of.”  She took a quick breath to steady herself.  “He was there for my last birthday party a few months ago.  His gumbo is REALLY good.”

 

“Umm...what has THAT got to do with anything?” the wolf girl asked, obviously confused by this turn of the conversation.  The hooded girl leaned forward and tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention.

 

“Lesley, Nemean is almost seven feet tall, weighs almost six hundred pounds of dense muscle, and is covered in thick green scales like an alligator.  He's got claws that can slice through steel and jaws strong enough to bite through I-beams, and he's a legitimate rager who gets stronger and heals faster when he's angry.”  She paused for a moment as her friend's jaw dropped.  “Sorry, girl, but you've got NOTHING on him when it comes to scary.”

 

The wolf girl, who Tanya now knew for sure was Lesley, looked back at her with something approaching awe in her eyes, causing Tanya to blush just a bit.

 

“You know, Ekene...” Sequoia took the opportunity to interject thoughtfully, “you ALSO don't hold a candle to Nemean for being scary.”

 

Tanya noticed how the girl flinched at those words and reflexively reached up to touch her hood.  The way her sleeve shifted revealed bright green scales atop her dark, chocolate colored skin, which she just as quickly covered back up.

 

“I'm...a different kind of scary,” she said slowly, her shoulders sagging.  Tanya felt another pang of hurt for the girl as Sequoia stepped up to her and ducked her head to try and look her in the eye.  Tanya noticed that she very intentionally placed a hand on Ekene's shoulder, even though the girl tried to pull away from it.

 

“Ekene, YOU are not scary.”  She kept her voice gentle even as she put some force into her words.  “Yes, you have some features that can freak out a lot of people, but you can't let that keep you in hiding.  Hiding isn't the answer to making sure people aren't afraid of you.  Being who you are, letting people see the real you, is how you do that.  And you KNOW that.  You were doing so well this past year about opening up.”

 

“But...but...all the new girls...they'll...”

 

“They'll end up seeing eventually anyway, Ekene,” Sequoia replied with genuine concern.  “It's better that they see it sooner rather than later.  Give them the chance to warm up to you, and if they don't, that's their loss.”

 

Tanya stayed quiet through all of this, unsure of what to say or do.  She wanted to say something encouraging, but didn't want to risk making things worse, especially when she realized the girl was actually sobbing faintly.  Dawn was in no better shape, looking like she wanted to hug her friend but afraid to get too close at the moment.

 

“You can do this, Ekene,” Sequoia said softly, which was met by a loud sniffle.  Then the girl shuddered for a brief moment and took a deep breath before reaching up to her hood.

 

Tanya understood immediately why the girl was so scared of showing herself.  While her face was honestly beautiful in spite of the tears that stained her cheeks, the six green-scaled snakes that adorned her head like cornrows rather than actual hair had undoubtedly earned her some less than friendly reactions.  And the fact that they seemed to move independently, and were all presently hissing threateningly at Sequoia's hand, was definitely unnerving.  That the tall RA still hadn't removed it from the girl's shoulder definitely bumped Tanya's respect for her up a few notches.

 

“That's very good, Ekene,” Sequoia said softly.  “Now you just need to relax.  You know they get agitated based on your emotional state.”

 

The girl nodded slowly, keeping her eyes closed and continuing to take deep breaths, a process Tanya recognized as a meditation technique that Nemean himself regularly used.  Finally, after another minute or so of controlled breathing, the snakes appeared to relax, going from hissing menacingly at Sequoia's hand to quietly caressing it.  Ekene let out a sigh of relief then opened her eyes, revealing dazzling green irises that matched her scales.

 

“Atta'girl,” Sequoia said softly as she leaned it to give her a soft embrace.  “Told you you could do it.”  Then she stood up straight and stepped back giving Dawn and Lesley a brief nod.  The fidgeting satyr-girl was instantly at her friend's side and giving her another hug, which she appeared immensely grateful for, while Lesley was a bit more reserved and just set a hand on her shoulder in encouragement.

 

As Tanya stepped closer, Ekene gave her a hesitant, almost fearful smile.  “So...umm...what do you think?”

 

“I think that I can totally understand why you'd be worried about scaring people,” Tanya replied very carefully, “but I also think it's kind of cool.  So they move around on their own?”

 

The girl smiled at the both the compliment and the fact that Tanya was curious to know more.  “For the most part, yeah.  Their mood generally matches mine, and I can control them a bit if I focus on it, but for the most part they do their own thing.  Which is bad considering they can actually bite and have a strong paralytic venom.”

 

“Maybe bad sometimes,” Tanya said thoughtfully, “but not all the time.  If you're ever in danger that's an extra line of defense an attacker has to deal with, which is pretty cool in its own way.”  Ekene looked thoughtful at that comment.

 

“Yeah, I suppose you're right on that one.  And I CAN use their senses to an extent too.”

 

“How so?” Tanya asked with a quizzical look.

 

“Umm...well...I sort of have a danger sense for anything they can see, even if I'm not consciously registering it.  And if I really focus on it, I can kind of see three hundred and sixty degrees around me in infrared...”

 

Both Dawn and Lesley couldn't help giggling as Tanya's mouth dropped open.  Ekene at least had the good sense to look slightly embarrassed by that.  And Sequoia just shook her head with a grin.

 

“Hey, are you little girls done over there yet?” called out Mad Cat from her spot around the table.  “Some of us would like to continue the game over here.”

 

“Oiy!  Hold yer tail, ya wee moggie!” Lesley snapped back.  “We're comin'.”

 

Silence reigned in the room for the brief moment it took everyone to process what the Scottish lass had said, then was immediately followed up but a round of open laughter.  Janette even stood up from her place and started clapping.

 

“Well done, Faollass.  I knew we'd get your snark to come out eventually.  I'm just surprised it happened while we weren't actually playing.”  Then she cast a sidelong glance at Mad Cat, who had sunk back into the couch in embarrassment from all the laughter.  “But Lil' does have a point.  This game does take a while, and we ARE trying to finish.”

 

“On our way, Janette,” Dawn replied quickly, a broad grin on her face now that the mood had been lightened.  She gave Tanya an expectant look.  “Do you want to join us?  I'm sure we can deal you in.”

 

“I'd love to, but...” Tanya replied slowly, turning a questioning gaze on Sequoia.

 

“But Tanya still needs to get settled into her room and meet Sterling,” the senior RA explained, “so it will be a little while before she's free for the evening.  And on that note...” she turned to look back at the group gathered around the coffee table, specifically at the tawny catgirl.  “Kat, I'm afraid I'll have to kidnap you away from the game for a little bit.  It's probably best for you to at least try to introduce Tanya to her roommate.”

 

Telekat actually looked confused for a moment at Sequoia's words, before a look of sudden recognition crossed her face and her shoulders actually sagged.  That definitely set off some warning bells in Tanya's head.

 

“Yeah, I guess you're right about that, Rache.”  Her face was actually sullen as she stood up from her spot.

 

“She needs to get used to you checking up on her, Kat.  That's the only way she'll be able to stop automatically using her powers.”

 

“I know that!” Telekat snapped back resentfully, before taking a deep breath and giving Sequoia an apologetic look.  “It's just...hard, you know?”

 

Sequoia gave her fellow RA an encouraging pat on the shoulder.  “Yeah, I know.  But we've got to get her to open up more somehow.”  She gave Tanya a sidelong glance.  “Hopefully Tanya here will be able to help us out with that, if the notes in her file from her power testing are true.”

 

Now Tanya was really confused.  What notes from her power testing?  And what did any of her powers have to do with her roommate anyways?  As Sequoia and Telekat turned and started walking towards the northeast wing, Tanya gave her new friends a questioning look.  The fact that they all looked just as confused as she was didn't help the sinking feeling in her stomach.

 

“I have no idea what they're talking about,” Dawn said with a worried frown.  “I've never met anyone named Sterling here before.”  Both Lesley and Ekene nodded their agreement, their faces equally puzzled.

 

“Well, I guess I'm about to find out,” Tanya replied with a forced smile to cover her worry.  Something didn't sound very good here at all.  “I'll see you guys again later after I've settled in.”

 

“Alright, catch you later, Tanya,” Dawn replied as she turned and led her other friends back to the gathering around the table.

 

Tanya turned and followed after her two RA's to see what the big mystery was about.

 

line break short

 

Sequoia and Telekat came to a stop as the hallway ended at a T intersection, both turning to face Tanya with obvious nerves.  Telekat let out a sigh before motioning to the left hand hallway.  “That is the northwest wing, Janette's domain.  Her room is this first one here on the left.”  She indicated the appropriate door, the first on the left hand side if you were to turn onto the wing, #210.  Then she turned to indicate the opposite hallway.  “And that makes this my, and by extension your, domain, the northeast wing.  I'm here in room #220.”

 

“As Bai Yun already pointed out,” Sequoia interjected, “while you should technically always go to TK here first if you need anything, that doesn't mean you can't come to the rest of us.  Bai Yun and I are on the other side of the floor, with this same set up, each of us in the first room on our wing.  Got that so far?”

 

Tanya nodded.  So far everything was making sense.

 

“Good.  Each wing also has its own bathroom with showers, so we should never have the whole floor fighting over just one.  Although there HAVE been occasions where one or two are closed briefly for some kind of maintenance, and in those situations the students on the affected wings are free to use one of the other bathrooms on the floor, though it'll be a bit more of a walk to get to it.”

 

“The floor also has two parlors,” Telekat added, motioning towards the door exactly in the middle of the two wings.  “These are smaller gathering rooms that can be used for group or team meetings, or just for personal study if the main common room is too loud or busy and you don't want to be cooped up in your room.  We'll frequently use them for wing specific meetings, when we don't need to address the whole floor.”  She stepped up to the door and opened it, motioning for Tanya to take peek inside.

 

Looking through the door, Tanya could see that it was laid out pretty much like a good sized living room, with plenty of seating around another faux fireplace with a big holo TV above it.  There were also what looked like two writing desks against the far wall, with a large picture window overlooking the woods outside.  It definitely looked like it would be great for either small gatherings or for study.  She turned back to face the two RA's just in time to see Telekat grimace with worry and Sequoia give her a gentle pat on the back.

 

“And now the hard part,” Kat continued with a sigh, motioning for Tanya to follow her to the next door on the right, room #229.  “This will be your room, Tanya, if everything works out like Mrs. Savage hopes.”  Then she turned and knocked on the door.  “Sterling! It's Kat. We're...”

 

The RA's words were cut short as she clutched at her forehead, and oddly enough, even Tanya seemed to feel a slight twinge just behind her temples.  Even more odd though, was what TK said next.

 

“Heh, sorry,” she said with an embarrassed grin in Tanya's direction.  “Not sure where that headache came from.  I get them from time to time, but it's usually just when I push my telekinesis a bit too far.”  She gave Tanya an excited smile.  “Ready to see your room?”

 

Tanya's head was spinning.  What had just happened?  One moment Kat was nervous and anxious, hesitant to even knock on the door, and now she was acting like it didn't bother her in the least.  And why had she just stopped trying to talk to...what was her name again?  Starlight? Starling?  No, Sterling!  That was it.  Behind her, Sequoia just let out a deep sigh.

 

“Yes, Kat, let's go ahead and get this over with,” the older RA said wistfully, motioning for them to proceed.

 

“Alright, here we go!” Kat exclaimed excitedly as she opened the door and stepped inside without even a moment's pause.  “You've got the room to yourself for now, but we've got all the stuff you sent ahead of you over here on the left hand side.”  Following her RA inside, Tanya took note of the boxes sitting on the desk and bed that were indicated, but that wasn't what caught her attention as Kat rambled on.

 

There was a girl...no, a young woman really...sitting on the right-side bed with her arms wrapped around her knees, a book lying open in front of her as though it had been dropped.  Even curled up as she was, Tanya could see enough of her figure to be jealous.  Her skin was a deep, forest green color, but that did nothing to detract from her obvious curves and the well endowed chest that Tanya could glimpse past her knees.  And her hair...it was long and full, falling gracefully down her back like a sterling silver waterfall.  Tanya could see where she'd gotten her codename from, for sure.  But once she had taken all of that in, one last detail caused Tanya to instantly feel a mix of confusion and sorrow for the girl.

 

She was crying.

 

Unsure of what to do, Tanya could only stand there as Seqouia stepped past her to take a seat next to the girl and wrap her in a comforting embrace.  The scene was made even more bizarre by the fact that Telekat seemed to take no notice at all, but was looking at Tanya expectantly.

 

“Well, Tanya?”

 

“Huh...” Tanya managed to blurt out as she turned her attention back to the catgirl, her mind still reeling as she watched the pair on the bed out of the corner of her eye.  “Well what?”

 

“Well, what do you think of the room, obviously?”  The girl rolled her eyes with a sigh.  “It can't be THAT much more impressive than home, for you to be this tongue-tied.”

 

Tanya just stared at TK for a moment.  What was she supposed to do?  On the one hand, Sequoia was sitting on the bed talking quietly to a girl who was clearly upset and in tears.  And on the other, Telekat was standing here carrying on a conversation as though the two of them weren't even there, even though they were less than two feet away from where she was standing.  With a sinking feeling in her gut, Tanya was starting to think she knew why Dawn and the others had said they didn't know anyone named Sterling.

 

TK waved a hand in front of Tanya's face mockingly.  “Hello?  Anyone home?  You're starting to worry me here.”

 

“Umm...Telekat?  I think...” Tanya paused in her response, feeling what felt like a subtle drop in pressure inside her head.  She glanced back over to the bed where the green girl was visibly taking deep breaths to calm down while Sequoia kept her arm around her shoulders.  For her part, TK clutched at her head again before noticing Tanya's gaze.  When she turned to see what her charge was looking at, a look of confusion dawned on her face but didn't last long, quickly shifting to recognition, then shock, and then finally regret.

 

“OH MY GOD, STERLING!” she blurted out immediately as she sat down on the girl's other side, tears coming to her own eyes.  “I'm SO sorry!  I've been trying to work on my mental defenses, to keep from being affected by your powers, but it seems like nothing I try works.  I'm so, so sorry.”  She wrapped the girl in a hug of her own as the tears streamed down her cheeks.  Sterling just hugged her back, though Tanya thought she saw a twinge of guilt flash across the green girl's face.

 

“It's not your fault, TK,” she replied through her sniffles, “I'm the one that can't help using my powers, no matter how much I try.  I should be apologizing for making you forget in the first place.”

 

“Actually, it looks like you're at least remembering better now, Kat,” Sequoia interjected with an encouraging tone.  “At first you couldn't remember her at all once being hit with the effect, even after she would let it down.  Maybe whatever you've been doing is helping keep everything locked in place, you just can't access the memories while under her power's influence?”

 

Telekat looked thoughtful at that for a moment.  “You know, I think you might be right,” she replied slowly, just a hint of hope in her voice.  She gave Sterling a faint smile.  “It all came rushing back to me as soon as I saw you again, and I don't think I'm missing any pieces, though I guess it will take a while to find out for sure.”

 

Sterling responded with a faint smile of her own, but it was quickly replaced with a sad frown.  Sequoia noticed and gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze.

 

“Hey, don't beat yourself up, girl. It's getting better.”  She nodded to indicate Telekat.  “This is real improvement, which is a really good thing.  And you're doing an awesome job of keeping your power off right now, too, so that's DEFINITELY progress.”  Then she finally looked back over at Tanya, who was still just standing there, uncertain of what to do.  “And even better, it seems like we've finally got someone who can be your roommate, to get you used to interacting with people again and not always using your powers first thing.”

 

Tanya fidgeted as all three older girls looked at her, especially when she met Sterling's curious gaze.  Given the way the conversation had gone, she couldn't help feeling like an outsider intruding on something quite personal.  But she was also having a hard time holding back all of the questions she wanted to ask.

 

Telekat coughed lightly to clear her throat.  “I guess introductions are in order now.”  She met Sterling's gaze and motioned with her arm at Tanya.  “Sterling, this is Tanya Wright, who just arrived on campus today.  She's the one we told you about last week, who was supposed to arrive yesterday but got delayed in New York.”  Then she switched gears and met Tanya's gaze.  “And Tanya, this is Rebecca Sawyer, who usually goes by Becky or Sterling.  She's been here at Whateley for a few weeks now, but as you can probably tell already, hasn't had the best of experiences so far, thanks to the way her powers work.”

 

Tanya nodded her understanding, her eyes still wide as she addressed the green girl.  “You make people forget and not notice you, right?”  When the girl nodded, Tanya couldn't help gasping.  It was one thing to suspect that was the case, it was another to have it confirmed.  “So that's why Dawn and the others said they'd never heard of you...”

 

Pain flashed through the girl's eyes briefly before she looked away.  “I...I've introduced myself to Dawn three times.  When she came up to me one morning and asked my name for the fourth time, I just...”

 

Tanya winced as the girl's tears started to come back again.  Then she felt the bottom of her stomach fall out when the pressure in her head returned.  She looked on in horror as Telekat stood to her feet.

 

“Well, Tanya, I guess we should leave you to get settled in.”  She took a moment to look at the expression on Tanya's face.  “Oh come on now, there's no need to freak out like you've seen a ghost.  It's not like we're going to be far away.”  Then she turned back to Sequoia.  “You coming, Rache?”

 

“I'll be out in a bit, Kat,” the redhead replied with weary sigh.  “I want to cover a few more things with Tanya first.”

 

“All right, suit yourself then.”  She gave Tanya a quick parting smile.  “It's good to finally have you here, Tanya.  Let me know if you need anything, and take care.”

 

Then she left.  Walked out the door without even an inkling that she was forgetting something.  Tanya felt a cold chill run down her spine before Sterling's renewed sobs even registered.

 

“I...” she had no idea what to say as she turned back to see Sequoia hugging Sterling again while the girl sobbed into her shoulder.  She could imagine that Sterling didn't even want to hear her say anything right now, given the trouble she'd just caused.  So she just stood there.

 

“It's not your fault, Tanya,” Sequoia stated softly after a moment, giving Tanya an apologetic look.  “We knew this was going to be tough no matter how we approached it.”

 

When it became apparent that Sterling wasn't going to settle down anytime soon, Sequoia pulled out her phone and dialed a number from memory.  And apparently whoever was on the other end answered pretty quickly, as she had barely put the phone to her ear before she started speaking.

 

“Hey, Dr. Cody.  Yes, sir, it's Sterling.  Thanks, I'll bring her right over.  Sorry for the trouble.”

 

“I don't want to go,” Sterling suddenly snapped in the midst of her sobs, pushing Sequoia's arm away.  “All he's going to do sit there and make me talk.  I just want to be alone right now.”

 

Sequoia let out a sigh.  “Well, talking to someone is just what you need right now, because being alone is the whole problem.”  She stood up to her full, considerable height.  “Now come on.  The good doctor's heading back to his office already.  It would be rude to keep him waiting.”

 

Sterling's only response was to shift farther over to the wall as more sobs kept coming.

 

“Becky, I'll pick you up and carry you if I have to.  You know I can do it.”

 

Sterling turned her head to glare at Sequoia, her eyes red from her tears, as though she were trying to judge if the taller girl would really follow through on her words.  Sequoia merely arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms, daring the silver-haired girl to push her luck.  Finally, after a long, tense moment, Sterling's eyes lost their angry edge.  She let out a deep breath, seeming almost to deflate both emotionally and physically, before giving a tired nod.  Then she shimmied over to the edge of the bed and slowly stood.  She turned and walked to the door, never once looking at Tanya.

 

Tanya watched her go, and she had to admit that it hurt, like what she imagined a knife in the gut would feel like.  Yet what could she do?  All she'd done was make one observation and the whole conversation had been derailed in the worst possible way she could imagine.  She felt helpless, unsure of what to do or say, and she HATED that feeling.  Her own eyes started to mist before she felt a strong hand on her shoulder.

 

Sequoia squatted down so she was eye to eye with Tanya, and her own eyes were moist with sorrow.  “I'm so sorry for putting you through this on your first night here, Tanya.  We had to know if this would work or not, I just wish it could have gone better.”

 

Tanya felt a momentary surge of frustration.  “I tried!  I didn't mean for...”

 

“No, Tanya,” the redhead interrupted firmly with a shake of her head.  “I'm not blaming you.  You've done far better this evening than I had any right to hope for, and I know Mrs. Savage and Ms. Everette will be pleased to hear it.  The way you interacted with Dawn and Lesley and the others was perfect.  It's just...” she cast a wistful glance at the door, “...Sterling's situation is going to be tough.  There's no way around it.  Sure, we could transfer her over to Hawthorne to get some more specialized help, but then she'd be even more isolated than she is now.”  She paused for a moment before looking back at Tanya with a cringe.  “Sorry, too much information for the moment.  I need to go and catch up with her.”

 

“What do you want me to do?” Tanya asked slowly as Sequoia stood back up to her feet.  The taller girl gave Tanya a faint smile at that.

 

“Go ahead and get settled in for now.”  She nodded at all the boxes Tanya had sent ahead of her, which were still sealed up and waiting for her to unpack.  “There's a small chance Dr. Cody might want you to join us, but if that's the case I'll come back for you.  If not, then hopefully I'll have a chance to talk to you when we get back, to fill you in a bit more on what you can expect.  If that doesn't happen, then I'll definitely track you down at some point in the morning.”

 

“Okay,” Tanya replied, nodding her understanding.  Sequoia gave her one last smile before heading to the door and dashing out to catch up with Sterling.

 

For a long while, Tanya just stared at the door, her thoughts a swirling mess.  Then she turned to her bed, finally unslung the bags from her back, and reached for one of the boxes.  This one was clearly marked 'decorations,' and she quickly opened it up and pulled out the cardboard tube that held her poster of Champion.  Her eyes darted about the room, intent on the serious business of making the place feel more homey.

 

The process took her mind off of everything she'd just learned, if only for a little while.

 

line break short

 

Freshly showered and dressed in her pajamas, Tanya took a moment to look about the room.  Her posters were up, depicting Champion, Lady Astarte, and even the stylized watchtower that was the Wardens' symbol back home, not to mention the one of Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings movies.  She was hopeful that Sterling would appreciate that one, given that she'd noted it was a copy of the Silmarillion the girl had been reading when she, Sequoia, and Telekat had first walked into the room.

 

Her clothes were put away neatly in the provided wardrobe, both in the hanging portion and in the drawers beneath.  Her bed as made up nicely with the quilt that her grandmother had made for her and her Beacon Academy pillow, and her desk was neatly arranged.  The laminated but old-fashioned nautical chart that her mom had gotten for her at a garage sale when she was eight was laid out rather like a table cloth on the desk, going nicely with her spinning globe to give just a bit of that rustic look she really liked.  Her framed pictures of her dad, Aunt Jorunn, Nagual, Nemean, and the rest of the Wardens were all arranged on the shelves above the desk, alongside a few of her books.  She still had more of those that she'd have liked to unpack, but she just couldn't find a good place for them.  She was definitely going to have to figure out some way to get a proper bookshelf in here.  Judging from the stack of books on the desk opposite hers, she wasn't the only one who could use it.

 

Finally taking in Sterling's side of the room, which was rather more sparsely decorated than hers, Tanya felt a pang of unease.  A glance at the clock on her nightstand, a near antique analog variety with its two bells on top, told her that her roommate and senior RA had been gone for almost two hours now.  She could only imagine what they were talking about with this Dr. Cody fellow that would take this long.

 

A sigh escaped her lips as she thought back on everything she'd learned so far this evening, now that she didn't have anything to distract her.  Some of her cottagemates, her roommate in particular, had some pretty major issues to deal with, and there would likely be even more of them arriving tomorrow and the next day.  Self consciousness about GSD, worries about scaring or hurting others, family issues back home, the...honestly mess was probably the best term...that was Sterling's life right now; it was a lot to take in.

 

And apparently she was expected to help them all deal with it.  That thought really unnerved and even scared her, if she was honest.  Would she be able to handle it?  She hadn't been exaggerating when she told Sequoia earlier that she'd never had many friends.  Eric, Damien, and the other guys in her parkour group had been the closest she ever came to that, and they were all at least a couple years older than her.  Now?  Now she had not only Morgana, Laura, Tia and the others from New York, but also a whole floor of girls her age that she was supposed to be friends with.  As much as she'd been hoping to make new friends here at Whateley, where she didn't have to hide things, this seemed like too much too fast.

 

She took a deep breath as a thought crossed her mind.  What she needed right now was someone she could talk to about it all, and she needed to call home anyway.  Snatching up her phone from it's place on the nightstand, she sat on her bed with her back against the wall as she flipped it open, but before she could dial her dad's number, she noticed that she'd missed two texts.  They were both from Morgana, with the first apparently sent not long after she'd started unpacking and she missed it somehow, just reminding her that the group was going to try and get together again for breakfast in the morning.  The second was more recent, probably while she was in the shower, and simply read <Tanya?>.

 

Tanya was honestly touched that her new friend had thought to not only remind her of the morning get-together, but also to check up on her when she didn't reply.  She quickly tapped up a response.

 

<Sorry, been a bit busy getting settled in and missed your texts.  Will definitely see you guys in the morning. =) >

 

Sending that off, Tanya wondered briefly if the British girl might still be awake to receive it or if she'd just see it in the morning.  There wasn't much she could do about it either way, so she shrugged before switching the phone over to calling mode and dialed her dad's number.  It took only three rings before the line was connected.

 

“Hey, pumpkin,” her father's strong baritone voice greeted her warmly.  “It's getting late,  I was starting to wonder if you were going to call or not.  How was the unplanned stay in New York, and are you settling in okay at the school now?”

 

Tanya couldn't help smiling faintly at her dad's slightly rushed pace.  She knew from experience that he only talked like that when something had him worried, and it was touching to know that worry was for her right now.

 

“I'm fine, Daddy,” she replied with only a little bit of embarrassment at being called his pumpkin.  “New York was really good, actually, although you probably don't want to hear all of the details.  And yeah, I'm getting settled in pretty well.  Just got finished taking a shower after getting my part of the room set up, and I figured now was as good a time as any to call.”

 

“Heh, funny you should say that, honey,” her dad responded with a faint chuckle.  “You've actually caught me in the middle of getting ready to head out.  Got a call this afternoon asking if I could cover Parker's shift again tonight.  The doctor still hasn't released him to work from his back injury.”

 

“Well dang, that sucks,” Tanya replied with a wince.  She had fond memories of the large bear of a man that was her dad's partner in his ambulance driving days, before her dad was transferred to his current position as a motorcycle paramedic.  Parker had been her dad's best friend since before she was born, and was one of the few regular visitors her family had ever had.  He was probably the only person besides the Wardens themselves who knew of her mother's involvement with them, and he'd been particularly important to her dad in the weeks and months following her mom's funeral.  The thought of him being forced to lie around in bed all day, unable to do anything, was more than enough to earn Tanya's sympathy.  “How is he doing with that?”

 

“About like you would expect.  He's been chomping at the bit to get back on the rig for a few days now, but the doctor's just playing it safe, which I'm personally thankful for.  Back injuries are nothing to take lightly, as much as Parker wants to argue the point.  But the doc' says he should be good to go in just a couple more days, so he'll be back to saving lives by this weekend.”

 

“Well that's good to hear at least,” Tanya responded, nodding out of habit even though her dad couldn't see it.  “Wouldn't want him going any more crazy than he already is, right?”

 

“Heh, definitely right.  Any crazier and he'll be talking about how aliens have been using strange portal devices to visit our planet for thousands of years without our ever knowing it, just so they could taste our chocolate or something like that.”

 

Tanya couldn't help giggling at that thought.  She could honestly imagine her dad's old partner saying just such a thing if he was in the mood for sarcastic humor.  Finally, once she got her giggles under control, she let out a sigh.

 

“I guess I should probably let you finish getting ready so you can go, huh?”

 

“Yeah, that's probably a good idea, pumpkin,” her dad replied with a sigh of his own.  “Do you want to talk to Aunt Jorunn while I finish up?”

 

“Aunt Jorunn is there?”

 

“Yep, she came over for dinner tonight.”

 

“Cool, and yeah, I'll talk with her for a bit.  I was thinking about calling her after you anyways.”

 

“Alright, give me just a bit to bring her the phone.”

 

“Okay,” Tanya replied with another unseen nod as she took the opportunity to get herself situated more comfortably.  She scooted back on the bed until she was leaning up against the wall and pulled her feet up to cross them Indian-style, all while keeping the phone pressed to her ear.  Moments later, she could hear the tell-tale shuffling of her dad handing off the phone.

 

“Tanya?” her godmother's voice finally greeted her.

 

“Hi, Aunt Jorunn,” Tanya replied sunnily as a smile came unbidden to her face upon hearing the older woman's voice.  “How was dinner?”

 

“It was great, as expected.  Your father prepared his special summer stew that I've always loved so much, and I actually managed to not botch the sweet tea.”

 

“Wow, really?  It's a miracle!” Tanya playfully responded.  Her godmother was notoriously terrible in the kitchen, and it was a long standing tradition to mess with her about it whenever possible.

 

“Ha ha, very funny,” Sylphie jibed back with an honest chuckle nonetheless.  “I have been getting better at it, you know.”

 

“Tell that to my taste buds after the last time.”

 

“Well we'll just have to see about doing that when you come back for your first break, won't we?  And speaking of food anyways, how was your first experience with dining in Crystal Hall?”

 

“Oh my gosh, Aunt Jorunn, it's so cool!” Tanya practically squealed in response.  “With the dome, and the elevated platforms, and the waterfalls, and all the food!  It's like what heaven has to be like!  So much better than any place else I've ever eaten!”

 

“Waterfalls, huh?” Sylphie replied around a laugh at her goddaughter's exuberance.  “That's a new one on me.  I knew they'd done some renovations on the place, but I wasn't thinking anything like that.”

 

“It's really, really cool.  You'll have to come up and visit sometime so you can see it.”  Tanya couldn't help feeling a bit smug that she'd seen something here at the school that even her godmother, a former student herself, didn't know about, and the thought of eventually getting to show it off to her was rather exciting.

 

“I might just have to do that, yes.  We'll see how the year goes.  Are you settling in okay for now?  Made any new friends yet?”

 

“Yeah, I've made some,” Tanya replied quickly before her previous thoughts caught back up with her, causing her to hesitate.  “I...”

 

Thinking about it, her godmother was probably the best person she could talk to right now about her concerns.  She'd obviously been to school here herself, even staying in Whitman during that time, and had probably felt a lot of what she was feeling now at some point.

 

“Tanya?”  Sylphie's voice was tinged with worry at her goddaughter's abrupt silence.

 

“Umm...Aunt Jorunn?  Since you brought up friends, can I talk to you about something?”  Tanya bit nervously at her thumbnail as she waited for her godmother's reply.  She hoped this wasn't going to sound too childish.

 

“Of course, sweetie.  You can talk to me about whatever you need to.  I'm always here to listen.”

 

Tanya let out a faint sigh of relief but was still nervous as she continued.

 

“Well, while we were stopped over in New York, I made friends with a bunch of other kids who were also coming to Whateley, all freshmen like me.  We kind of ran into a bit of trouble while there, but we got through it just fine and I know I for one want to get to know them all more.  And now that I'm here at the school there are also several others already here, and a whole bunch more who will be arriving in the next couple of days.”

 

“Okay, that all sounds good so far, but it sounds like you're hesitating to tell me something.  What exactly is it that's bothering you, honey?”

 

“It's just...I don't know how I'm supposed to relate to all of them,” Tanya reluctantly admitted.  “There are so many, and a bunch of them are dealing with things that are just...I don't know...mind boggling to me.  With my friends from New York, one of the girls has nasty scars on her back from legitimately being tortured for weeks after she manifested.  Another girl, Tia, is the bunny girl that we've seen in the news over the past few months, the one from California that used to be a boy.  And here in Whitman, there's a girl with a bad enough case of GSD that I honestly thought she was a plain old cat when I first saw her, and another couple of girls with GSD that were honestly surprised when I wasn't afraid of them, as if fear is the only reaction they've ever gotten from most people.  And then my roommate...” Tanya shuddered involuntarily for just a moment, “...my roommate has a power that makes almost everyone around her completely forget that she even exists.  What am I supposed to say to that?  How am I supposed to be friends with and support so many people?  How...”

 

“Whoa, Tanya, slow down dear,” Sylphie's voice finally interrupted Tanya's whirlwind thoughts.  “To start with, nobody expects you to be friends with EVERYONE.  This is HIGH SCHOOL for goodness' sake.  You're bound to butt heads with a least a few people, and even among those that you don't clash with there will still only be a few that you can actually grow really close to, who will become your true friends.”  The voice paused for a brief moment while Tanya was processing what it said before continuing.  “If you try to be close friends with everyone you meet, all you'll manage to do is wear yourself out.  Certainly you want to be kind and friendly to everyone as much as possible, but don't feel like you have to be and do everything.  Cut yourself a little slack.  Does that make sense?”

 

Tanya thought silently for a moment before responding.  “Yeah, I guess it does.  So you think I'm just overdoing it a bit?  Trying to bite off more than I can chew?”

 

“That's what it sounds like from here, honey.  I know you really want to make a good impression and make a lot of new friends now that you don't have to keep so many secrets, but give yourself a chance to grow into that, okay?  And that also applies to your concerns about relating to all those kids with tough situations that you described.  Don't rush it, and don't try to force anything either.  Just be yourself and see how far that gets you.  Get to know others and let them get to know you.  Some people you'll just click with and you'll become good friends, some you'll just get along well with but not really develop anything deeper, and others you'll clash with and want to avoid.  As long as you're being yourself and not trying to put on an act, the good ones will stick around, and that's really all anyone can hope for.  It's impossible to please everyone, and trying to is just asking for trouble.”

 

Tanya smiled at that as she thought about what she'd heard Sequoia tell Ekene in the common room.

 

“That sounds a lot like what one of my student advisers said to one of the other girls today.  Hiding from people doesn't help things, you have to let them see the real you.  And if they don't like what they see, it's their loss.”

 

“Sounds like someone with wisdom beyond her years, and well worth listening to.”

 

“Yeah, I kind of got that impression from her.”

 

“So do you feel like you've got a better handle on all that now, or do we still need to talk about it more?”

 

“Better handle now, I think.  Thanks a lot, Aunt Jorunn!”

 

“Glad I could help, and that's good to hear, given that your dad is now ready to go and standing next me, waiting to get his phone back.  So it looks like I'm going to have to let you go.  Do you want me to call you back on my phone?”

 

“No, I think I'll be good now.  Thanks so much for the talk, and I love you Aunt Jorunn!”

 

“I love you too, sweetie.  Just remember what I said now.  Be yourself, and don't try to be everything to everyone, okay?

 

“I'll remember, and I'll call back again soon.”

 

“Good, here's your dad again now.  Love you, and take care.”

 

“Hi again, honey.  Sorry this has to be so quick.  I take it you had a good talk with Aunt Jorunn?”

 

“Yeah, I did.  She helped me sort through a couple of things.”

 

“Well that's good.  Glad to know it wasn't a totally wasted call then.”

 

“Any time I get to talk to you isn't wasted, Daddy, even if it's rushed.  I know I've only been gone a couple of days now, but I already can't wait to see you again.  Be careful out on the roads, okay?”

 

“I always am, pumpkin.  I love you, and we'll talk again soon.”

 

“Love you too, Daddy.  Bye!”

 

As the phone beeped to indicate that the call had ended, Tanya flipped it closed and set it down on the quilt beside her.  She was glad that she'd called when she did and managed to catch both her dad and her godmother.  Talking to them, as short as it was, had been just what she needed.

 

A quick glance at her clock told her that curfew was rapidly approaching, a fact which worried her a bit.  Would Sterling and Sequoia make it back before then?  She hoped so, but had no way of knowing for sure and it was starting to seem unlikely.

 

Sighing with disappointment, she decided it would probably be best if she went ahead and turned in for the night.  If they returned before she'd fallen asleep then she could easily sit back up and welcome them back, but if not then she'd wait and see what the morning had in store.

 

After a bit of shuffling around to put her phone on the nightstand and turn out the lights, Tanya knelt by her bed for a few minutes of prayer before nestling under her covers to settle in for the night.

 

line break short

 

A sudden thump and an unsuccessfully suppressed hiss would normally have not even registered to Tanya's sleeping mind, but given that she was still just barely entering the land of Nod, on this occasion it caused her to stir.  As she opened her eyes in the bleary darkness of the unlit room, she could make out a shadowy form moving just past the foot of her bed, so she reached over and switched on the light on her nightstand.  The sudden twinge of pressure behind her temples only helped confirm what her eyes saw, specifically that her new, green-skinned roommate was standing next to a pile of freshly toppled books and looking exceedingly embarrassed in a silver-colored satin nightgown that she filled out very well.  As Tanya's eyes quickly adjusted to the light, she could see that the older girl looked completely mortified, though whether this was because of waking her roommate or because of what she was wearing, Tanya couldn't be sure.

 

“Umm...everything okay, Sterling?” Tanya asked slowly as the awkward silence between them dragged on.  Sterling's eyes widened in shock momentarily, and with a pang Tanya realized that the girl was probably not used to people noticing her mishaps anymore.

 

“I...I...” Sterling's eyes darted back and forth between the pile of books on the floor and Tanya, with a couple glances back at the door thrown in as well, as she struggled to find the words she wanted.  “I'm so sorry,” she finally managed to whisper back as her shoulders sagged and she seemed to almost retreat into herself.  “I...I was trying not to wake you, so I didn't want to turn on a light, and then...”  Her outstretched hand indicated the toppled literature as moisture started forming in the corners of her eyes, though she quickly tried to hide that as she bent down to begin retrieving the texts.

 

“Hey, hey, relax,” Tanya replied earnestly as she flipped back her covers and slid out of bed.  “It was an accident, so no harm done.”  She bent down and started grabbing several of the books herself, trying to show the obviously flustered girl that she really meant what she said.  “These kinds of things happen, it's nothing to get upset over.”  Even as the words came out of her mouth, Tanya could see Sterling's shoulders droop even more.  Both girls paused in their efforts to collect the books as Sterling let out a monstrous sniffle.

 

“I...I know,” she slowly stammered out, her hand reaching up to wipe the eyes that were hidden from Tanya's view by loose strands of long silver hair.  “It's just...I didn't want to wake you, and then I knocked over the books, and then the light startled me, and then I used my powers after I promised Dr. Cody and Sequoia that I was going to try not to, and then...”

 

“Hey, relax,” Tanya interrupted gently, reaching out a hand to touch the older girl's shoulder and offer her some encouragement.  The touch seemed to startle the girl and she gasped as her tear filled eyes, dazzling silver with flecks of green, looked up to meet Tanya's violet ones, but she didn't pull away.  Tanya offered her a sad but hopefully encouraging smile.  “I get it.  I get flustered too when I'm trying to do something and mess up, especially if it affects someone else.  I always feel like I'm letting them down.  Like I should be able to do better.”

 

Sterling sniffled again and nodded before turning away and pulling back from Tanya's hand.  Leaving the now stacked books where they were on the floor, she shifted over to lean her back against the side of her bed before pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her head against them.

 

Unsure of what to do, Tanya hesitated a moment before picking up both the stack of books she had gathered and the one that Sterling had assembled and gently set them down on Sterling's desk.  Then, still uncertain, she shifted over to sit down next to the obviously still troubled girl.  Not knowing what to say, she decided to stay quiet, hoping that just being there would be of some help.

 

After what seemed like a considerably long time, but was probably only a few minutes at most, Sterling let out a long sigh before lifting her head, although she didn't look in Tanya's direction.  Instead, she seemed to stare off into some middle distance, lost in thoughts that Tanya couldn't perceive.

 

“I SHOULD be able to do better,” she finally said, still not looking at Tanya.  “I don't want to let Sequoia and Telekat and Dr. Cody, or Mrs. Savage and Ms. Everette, down.  They've all been doing so much to help me.  And I...”  She hesitated, looking like she was having a hard time putting her thoughts into words, then finally turned her tear-stained eyes to face Tanya.  “I don't want to make people forget anymore.  I'm...I'm tired of being alone.”

 

Before Tanya could even think of how to respond to that, she found herself being wrapped in a desperate embrace as Sterling buried her face in her shoulder, the tears pouring out anew.  But as awkward as it was for Tanya to have a girl who must be at least three years her senior clinging to her so desperately, she didn't try to pull away.  Sterling obviously needed a shoulder to cry on right now, and she had precious few options for that even when it wasn't the middle of the night.

 

So Tanya did her best to relax and just let her cry.

 

line break short

 

When the faint pressure behind her temples suddenly vanished, Tanya knew that Sterling had finally worn herself out and fallen asleep, right there in her arms.  She couldn't help feeling a pang of regret and sympathy for the obviously exhausted girl.

 

Activating her PK and moving as gently and slowly as she could, she managed to lift the older girl up without waking her and got her situated in bed.  She tucked her in before letting out a quiet sigh and sitting down on the edge of her own bed, watching Sterling's deep, even breathing.

 

This was definitely going to be tough, and she knew it.  As Sequoia had already pointed out, there was just no simple way to deal with Sterling's powers.  But she also knew that the girl desperately needed a friend.  Not just a bunch of authority figures watching out for her, as helpful as that was, but an actual friend.  And apparently she was one of the few people who could be that for her.

 

“Okay, God,” she said softly as she look up both at and past the ceiling, “I know Aunt Sylphie told me to take it easy and not overdo things, and I know this is pretty much the exact opposite of that, but I don't think I can pass this one up.  I know what it's like to feel isolated and alone, and I've never even come close to what she has to deal with.  So if I can do some good for her, I'm going to.  I'll be the friend that she needs, even though I don't really know how.”  She gave another faint sigh as she continued to look skyward, a tired smile on her face.  “So yeah, I guess I'm asking you to help me with that.  I'm going to need to learn how to be a good friend.  To Sterling, to Tia, Laura, Morgana and the others.  I can use all the help I can get.  This is certainly going to be an interesting year, and it's just barely started.  Please keep watch over me as I go ahead, and help me to do and be my best.  In your Son's name I pray, Amen.”


Lowering her head, Tanya took one last look at her roommate, still sleeping peacefully, before turning out her light and crawling back under her own covers.

 

line break short

To Be Continued...

Comments   

+1 # ShockHawk 2016-08-23 03:23
*rescinded...
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0 # NeoMagus 2016-08-23 03:32
Quoting ShockHawk:
Man, it's been forever since I played THAT game...

(Crap...)

...
Great, now I've lost the game...
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0 # bobbert 2016-08-23 17:48
Darn,

I just lost too.

Its also been a while since I have played MAU ( draw 3 cards for saying his great name in vain). I love that game. Sadly not many people like the fluidity of it. :P

I still remember my introduction to that game. I was unlucky as it was already 11 rounds in. :-x
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0 # Katssun 2016-08-23 08:56
Tanya is so adorable! Her outward bubbly enthusiasm, but also her insecurities that she keeps mostly internal.

I'm also looking forward to Vic's solo backstory.

I enjoyed the rest of the extended cast of both dorms, looking forward to seeing them pop up here and there.
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+1 # Pempelune 2016-08-23 17:04
Oooh, we have to see more of Ekene. She is definitely too cool to be true.
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