Special thanks go to KissofJudas, whose character Gabriel is, and who assisted me greatly in dialogue and brainstorming.
Leofric slid into his seat, resisting the urge to drop his books onto his desk and instead placing them down quietly. It had only been a week and a half and already this whole “laying low” thing was starting to drive him nuts. But Cya said it was for the best, so he was going to do his best.
Which meant not making loud, attention-drawing sounds when arriving at class.
It really didn’t help that the class coming up was history (his least favorite of all his classes, ever) and that he had absolutely no one to talk to. A quick survey of the other students in the room just proved the point. Not a single person he’d so much as talked to before, and he didn’t think chatting up the new students counted as “laying low”. He still wasn’t even sure what that meant he was allowed to do.
His musings were interrupted by another few teenagers walking in, one of whom was in fact one of the new students. Tall (even taller than Leo), pale and handsome (in a pretty sort of way), with dark hair, glasses and a reserved air more appropriate to BBC period dramas than literally underground magic schools. Leo recognized him from phys ed (no, he hadn’t actually paid attention to who else was in his history class before), but this was the first time he’d actually looked at the other boy.
In a subconscious mental shift that would only be noticeable if you were a nosy telepath poking around the blonde boy’s head, the new student was instantly assigned a type, a role, and a rough outline for the rest of his life.
Before Leo had time to consciously catch up with his own reality, he found himself scooping up his books and relocating to a desk neighboring the Seventh Cohort student. He sat down with a friendly grin, dropping his books on the desk with a quiet thunk.
“Hey! What’s up?”
The other boy looked up, startled. “Erm…nothing, really. H…how are you?” To Leo’s delight, he had an English accent.
“Hey, you’re British! That’s awesome.” Leofric grinned cheerfully.
The dark-haired boy blinked a few times before seeming to settle into the idea of conversation, turning slightly towards him. “Ah – yes. I grew up there, and only moved Stateside within the past year or so.”
“That must’ve been weird, moving,” Leofric remarked sympathetically. “I never really did, but my friend’s moved a lot.”
Cynara, the friend in question, had in fact moved more often than anyone else he’d ever even heard of. Her dad had been in the army and from what she’d told him, she’d lived in a dozen different places. Even Hawaii. That was almost as exotic as England.
This gave her the questionable title in his head of the expert on moving, so he made a mental note to ask what she thought it’d be like to move here from England.
“Speaking of weird,” he continued, glancing around the classroom, “how d’you like it here so far?”
“It’s… interesting, I suppose.” The other boy brushed his hair away from his eyes, adjusting his glasses in the next motion. (Exactly the sort of thing Leofric expected of him, which served to cement his newly-formed assumptions.) “Certainly different from what I expected after sixth form.”
Leofric smiled faintly to himself, looking at the other students and thinking about just how much stranger it would get for the new ones the coming Friday. “I don’t think it’s what anyone’s expected, coming here.” He turned back, looking curious. “So what’s your name?”
“Gabriel; Gabriel Klein.” The boy (named Gabriel) held out his hand. “What’s yours?”
Grinning, the blonde took his hand and shook it; firmly, but not aggressively. “Leofric c–” He hesitated, just barely stopping himself from answering with cy’Luca. “Uhm, Nelson. You can call me Leo!”
“Leofric,” he murmured, a faint smile flickering across his face. “Hm. I’m…not much of one for nicknames, but I’ll keep that in mind.” He made a bit of a face at some unspoken thought, then carefully removed his glasses to clean off with his shirt.
Unbeknownst to Gabriel (and, to a large degree, Leofric himself), using nicknames like ‘Leo’ had more significance than just informality. They were inextricably linked with friendship in his mind: using his nickname meant you saw him as a friend, and vice versa. Which meant that, on some level, Leofric’s attractive new acquaintance had accidentally turned down his open invitation to friendship.
But this all took place in the blonde boy’s subconscious, or even unconscious mind. All he was aware of was an unplaced sense of disappointment, which he did his best to squash aside and ignore. “Well, that’s okay. Gabriel’s a nice name.”
“I’ve grown to like it.” Gabriel’s smile widened the tiniest bit, and he slipped his glasses back on as he looked over at Leo. “Yours is a fine one as well – including a rather Herculean-based nickname. I’m quite impressed.”
The reference would’ve gone right over Leofric’s head at the best of times, but at that particular moment his attention had been caught by something else entirely.
The dark-haired English boy was not only handsome and well-spoken, but his primarily visible dark blue eye was paired with another of an incredibly vivid – and entirely different – shade of blue.
Gabriel was saved from being stared at by a completely stunned Leofric by Professor Valerian choosing just that moment to start class.
Hell Night had begun, and Leofric had taken to the halls, sword in hand. He remembered last year’s only dimly, but he’d been left with a conviction to Defend The Halls that had only been encouraged by Howard’s equal (actually, greater) conviction of the same.
It began eventfully enough, with Leo almost getting himself caught in a shadow trap and then accidentally punching a Seventh in the face. He was almost – almost – regretting the whole thing as he stepped around a corner and was nearly run into by a frightened-looking dark-haired girl. Quickly-sidestepping out of her way, he instinctively looked to where she’d been running from.
Mere feet away stood a heavily-muscled, iron-skinned older student – and held tightly in his grip was Gabriel. The Seventh Cohort boy who Leo’d decided was his friend.
And if there is one thing you do not do, it is mess with Leofric’s friends.
Stepping forward and furiously failing to remember the metalman’s name, he placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Hey! Let go of him.”
The iron man looked at Leofric appraisingly for a moment, not loosening his grip on Gabriel’s arms. (The English boy looked like he’d prefer to be anywhere else right then, but would settle for this being over as quickly as possible.)
Seeming to come to a conclusion, the threatening figure (who recognized Leofric, even if the blonde literally couldn’t remember him to save his life) leered over at him. “Why? Is he yours?”
Leo opened his mouth to reply and stopped, completely blindsided by the question. (He realized later that it was a stupid oversight on his part, but stupid oversights were part of the role and he shouldn’t worry about it.)
“…what? I don’t…” Gabriel, still pinned to the wall, looked just as confused and a hell of a lot more uncomfortable. His face slowly started turning bright red (his captor’s insinuation, at least, was hard to miss) and he cast a questioning look towards his would-be rescuer.
“I’ll… I’ll explain later.” Leofric hesitated. He hadn’t come out here intending to catch anyone; that was the opposite of what he’d meant to do! And he really, really didn’t want to trap anyone, let alone a friend.
But, if he outright said “no”, the iron man would continue tormenting Gabriel – and from the look of it, Leofric’s steel sword would be useless on him.
He glanced at Gabriel again, feeling awkward and uncertain about what to do, and settled on shifting the question. “Um… are you…?”
The unfortunate captive student looked even more bewildered, finally stammering out a tentative response. “I… could… be?”
“That’s not good enough.” The iron-skinned man’s grin widened and he tightened his grip, shoving Gabriel even harder into the wall.
Leofric reflexively stepped forward and moved to draw his sword (even though it wouldn’t do any good), but in the moment of hesitation before deciding a futile action was better than none, Gabriel quickly choked out an answer.
“Yes – fine, yes – I’m his. I’m Leo’s.”
Leo visibly relaxed, a corner of his mind noting in delight that he’d used his nickname. “Yes, he’s mine. Now let him go.”
There was a sudden sense of pressure in the hall for a brief moment, before releasing with an almost audible “pop”. Looking disgruntled, the older student (who Leo still couldn’t remember the name of) tossed Gabriel at Leo, then stomped off.
Leofric half-caught the dark-haired boy, then took him gently by the wrist and started leading him back through the halls.
“What was that all about?” Gabriel followed, rubbing at the shoulder where his attacker had grabbed him, then tilted his head to the side and rubbed at his ear. “The lights being out was novel at first, but it’s losing its allure.”
“I’ll tell you when we get back to the suite,” Leofric replied absently.
The suite, he knew, would be completely safe. He’d already come through all the halls between here and there, so he knew which way to go to avoid getting caught up in any trouble. All he needed to do now was get the two of them safely to the suite, and then…
“We’re going back to your suite?” Gabriel raised a questioning eyebrow. “I’d been on the way back to my room, but… I suppose a detour doesn’t matter.”
Leofric hesitated, almost stumbling as the comment caught him off-guard. He glanced back, feeling conflicted, knowing that this was going to be a lot more than just a detour.
“…Yeah. We aren’t far.”
And then maybe he could figure this mess out.