The introductions were half-hearted and rushed, Q clearly expecting the group to do most of the work themselves during classes. Dova saw Law raise an exasperated look at the heavens, so at least this was par for the course.
The only one to have been late that morning was Autumn, coming in a whole three minutes after the eight o clock chimes. One of the group tutted, but she didn’t even look his way as she took a place beside Q, standing as if she was in the military. Dova ignored the introduction beyond her name, instead distracted by the tight fitting athletic gear on her long body.
Fury nudged him none too sharply, offered an apologetic smile for his interruption, and Dova sighed internally before refocusing on the discussion.
“…and she’s going to be helping me with this. We need to find out how dreadfully our newbies are behind, after all.”
Dova groaned. He did not need to have been here for the whole conversation to know he was going to detest the morning.
“Why her?” Korra asked, clearly trying not to endear herself to the group. “I’ve been a competing athlete for most of my life.”
“I’m better,” Autumn stated, with no sense of pride. Korra, however, had plenty, and Doe could already see her colouring. He swapped an alarmed look with Risa, who stood to her other side, and they both contrived to distract her – Dova stomped on her foot none too subtly, and Risa started talking.
“What are we doing, specifically?”
Q smiled evilly, singling out Dova with his answer. “Benchmark tests. Start the warm ups, Autumn.”
Autumn nodded as if taking commands from a general, turning to survey her troops. “The rest of you, pair up and get to sparring. Law?”
“I’ll take them off your hands,” Law nodded, stepping forward and gesturing to the group to head outside. Autumn turned back to the other four.
“Follow my lead.”
“Pace yourself,” Autumn recommended as Korra whipped past. She snarled a retort which was lost to the wind, but Autumn had already turned away to watch for the next to lap. That was Fury, breathing heavily but enduring well, and Autumn nodded her approval as she took the time. It took another few minutes before Risa and Dova came into view.
Autumn eyed the pair and then stepped out in front of them. “You’re not giving this your best.”
“I’m knackered,” Dova complained. Though his face was red and his breath came in pants, Autumn knew the signs when someone was pulling back.
“You’re lazy,” she told him. “We’re training to defeat the Council. Anything less than 100% will get you dead.” She jerked her head and with a groan Dova continued. “I’m watching.”
“That’s creepy!” he yelled over his shoulder.
“Risa,” Autumn said, frowning. The girl wilted under her cold eyes. Like her cousin, she wasn’t giving this run her all, but unlike him, she wasn’t sure it was on purpose. “You can do better.”
Risa flushed and her mouth opened, biting retort ready, but instead her eyes dropped to the ground and she ran off in silence. Autumn stared after her with a frown.
Fury, with Korra hard on his heels, came around again. His times were consistent across the board, suggesting both training and common sense. Korra, sucking in desperate breaths but refusing to give ground, did not display the latter.
“Last one,” she shouted after them both.
Eventually, when they all gathered before her, Autumn eyed the times on her sheet. Each was written meticulously, down to the millisecond.
“Fury and Korra, you’re on par with us. You don’t need any extra training.” She met Korra’s victorious smirk with disdain. “You need less ego, more sense.”
“Excuse you!” Korra flicked her ponytail over her shoulder. “I am a-”
“Trained athlete? Then you should know your limits better.”
“Oh, you know me so well?” she sneered. “I could beat you in anything, any time, any day.”
Beside her, Dova groaned. Autumn cocked her head to the side, eyed the times, and shrugged.
“Then we will spar tomorrow. Dova, Risa, I will take you for training at 6 every morning.”
Dova dropped to his knees and arced his neck back so he could look imploringly at the sky. “Please, God, if you love me, strike me down right now-” He continued in this vein but Autumn spoke over him without missing a beat.
“The quicker you catch up, the quicker you get to have lie-ins. Get showered and changed. Law will meet us in class in half an hour.”
“I’ll train with you,” Fury promised, nudging Dova’s shoulder with his knee. Dova fluttered his eyelashes at his cousin.
“Can you train instead of me?”
Before he could reply, Korra marched to Autumn’s retreating figure. “Let’s spar now,” she demanded, eyes bright with the prospect of violence, face flushed from humiliation.
“For fuck’s sake,” Dova said in a low voice. “We better save her from herself.” As one the cousins forced Korra off the path, waving Autumn’s amused irritation away.
“Just ignore her,” Risa said quickly, overeager to brush her cousin’s stubbornness under the rug. “She just can’t stand being one upped.”
Autumn only shrugged, turning away and ducking into the laundry room and then further into the house. Korra swung around to face their youngest cousin, her eyes blazing. Dova opened his mouth, ready to cut Korra off, but she had already unleashed her best weapon.
“Better than being one upped by literally everyone else.”
Risa, startled, recoiled back from the verbal equivalent of a snake’s venomous bite. Her eyes filled before Dova shoved Korra away, helpless to do anything but create space. Fury nodded at the silent plea from Doe and stepped up to Risa, hooking an arm around her and steering her around to the front of the house instead.
“Why is she so mean?” Risa sniffed, hot tears spilling down her face, now cold from standing around sweaty for so long.
Fury opened his mouth, but what was he going to say? He couldn’t defend her – even without a goading prod, Korra had a hot and poisonous temper. He settled instead for the truth.
“Pride. It covers up weakness rather than boasting strength. It’s not true, Ris. You’re the best singer, the best artist, and the best movie buff I’ve ever known.”
Risa looked at him in despair. “But what good are those things?!” she wailed.
Fury sighed inwardly and relented. “Let’s just get changed and join the others.”
“I just don’t know why I’m here,” Risa admitted in a small voice, settled down across from Arcadia and Finn.
“It’s only your first week,” Cads said cheerfully. “And besides, we all bring something… you know… supernatural.”
Risa chewed on her lip. That was true, but what use was that? Her vampire nature made her stronger, faster, more alert than a human, and she couldn’t control the so-called gift that Q had given her. None of them could. Was that what they were really here for? How on earth could it help them win…?
Risa heard laughter between Korra, Dova, and Fury. She looked up to where they sat in the dining room and sunk further into her seat. It was hard to be cousins with Korra, harder still to be related to all of them at once.
“Fallen out?” Arcadia asked, her tone suggesting sympathy. Finn chucked a handful of nuts into his mouth and crunched, happily playing on his phone.
“They’re just so… close.” And I’m always left out. “And so good at everything they want to do.” I’m always left behind.
“Don’t compare yourself.” Finn said around his full mouth. “S’no good.”
“Yeah, like, Finn is better than me at some games, and I’m better than him at others. It evens each other out.”
“Not for me,” Risa muttered, finding her shoulders somewhere close to her ears.
“Not with that attitude,” a new voice stated. Risa jumped and turned around to see – Tore? – stroll his way in from the hall. She bristled at the casual scorn in his tone, felt the anger at being judged by a stranger spurn her into action.
“Excuse me?” she asked icily. Tore raised an eyebrow, trying not to let himself smile at her tone.
“I said ‘not with that attitude.’”
“Then why ask me to repeat it?”
“Because it was rude. Don’t butt into another person’s conversation.”
“But you seemed in need of reassurance,” Tore said, spreading his hands magnanimously. “And life is too short to listen to other people’s complaints.”
“Is this the Tore Philosophy?” Finn perked up. “Should I be taking notes?”
Risa shot Finn a scalding look for his interference in Tore’s favour. The boy didn’t notice, rummaging around in the bowl of nuts and picking out the peanuts into his palm.
“Maybe it should be,” Tore shrugged, passing them. Risa didn’t let him finish. She felt the bitter anger and stood up in his path. He was only two or three years older than her, but he must have had his growth spurt early because he towered over her.
“Excuse me,” Risa said again, hating how shrill her voice became as she grew angrier.
“What if I don’t?” Tore asked, laughing out loud this time. “Do you always asked to be excused when you have something important to say?”
Risa couldn’t help the ire this time. Her mind went blank, filled with static, and she spoke as if her words were deadly.
“I like to make sure people know what they’ve just said to me is rude and unnecessarily hurtful, because I, unlike you, have been raised properly, and would never think of being so cruel at the expense of someone else. Does it make you feel good to demean others? Where did you learn that from, I wonder?”
Tore’s eyebrows rose just enough to indicate he was taken aback, and when the implication of her words sunk in, his face became unreadable and yet unforgiving.
“And yet when you do strike, you go for the jugular. The Council would like that, too.”
He neatly stepped around and past her, not pausing for Dova who hurriedly jumped to the side to get out of his way. He shot a pitying look at Risa, whose eyes were filling with tears at what she had said, and what had been said back to her.
“This is your fault,” she hissed at him, storming out of the room. Humiliation ate at her, rotting its way from her stomach outwards, and all she could think of were her three cousins sharing shrugs and continuing on their conversation without a second thought.
Despite tension and conflict gathering like a storm between groups, the cousins settled in well. Each morning Korra would get up at 5, to start Autumn’s routine three minutes before her, and send the teen triumphant sneers every few minutes. Never did Korra realise that Autumn didn’t once look her way until it came time for them to spar, at which point Autumn won every round. Korra had ranted about this to Risa most evenings, claiming that Autumn had some supernatural powers that gave her an edge, and how it wasn’t fair to pair them together. Risa, wisely, kept her mouth shut.
Her own routine was to rise in time for the early training, and then return to her room and rush through her hair, make up, and clothes. She didn’t dare go to class late, but she also agonised over stepping into the room less than perfect. She felt all eyes were on her each time she went into a room, and knew she could hardly measure up to Korra – so effortlessly beautiful – or Autumn, sophisticated and stunning. Nastily, Risa always sat near Arcadia, thinking to herself that at least she knew there was one person she could outshine – the girl who didn’t wear much makeup or do much with her hair.
Dova stumbled into the morning practice so late that Fury had taken to dragging him out of bed. He complained through the entire thing, wasting energy that he should have been putting into training. Fury despaired, but that was his cousin. Dova was not the type to apply himself to anything other than TV marathons.
Fury happily trained early, settling into the motions as he did at home, excited to hone his skills with new teachers. As good as his parents had been, they were nothing on Law or Autumn, and Fury took to the learning singlemindedly. He couldn’t fight on par with either of them yet, but he took his licks and eagerly learnt when he could. This was more than he could say for Korra, who made snide comments at her perceived rival every chance she got. Autumn either didn’t hear them, or didn’t care. She never even reacted, which of course made Korra furious.
They were all improving, at least. Dova and Risa in particular, neither of them having trained much in the past, showed huge improvements. It wasn’t long before they were excused from the extra training, and Dova happily lay in bed and snored while Korra and Fury still joined Autumn – one to best her, the other to learn.
Fury’s routine slowly changed. On their run around the grounds and into the ruins, he began to peel off to investigate whatever delights Keely had snatched from the kitchen underneath the Alpha’s nose. He would cool down while she wittered on about whatever she fancied, reeling off question after question about humans and then laughing at the response. Sometimes the laughter was delighted, other times Fury suspected it was at the humans’ expense. Still, he enjoyed her company.
“You share a room with Autumn, don’t you?” Fury asked, pinching one of the grapes in her dish. Keely nodded, focusing instead on peeling its skin, because she had spoken at length about a show which had demonstrated this happening in history. “Is she… I mean, does she… Doesn’t Korra irritate her?”
Keely cocked her head, swinging her feet behind her. “No. Autumn is a complicated human. She is so very different from the rest of you. All others are a slave to their emotions, Korra especially. Not Autumn.”
Fury took the assessment of his cousin in his stride. It was, after all, a fair judgement.
“Does she even notice?” he mused.
“She would attribute it to Korra having a bad day. The very idea that anyone could have a problem with her, she finds absurd.”
Keely planted her pointed chin on her hands. “She is her mission. She has discussed this with me, and I think I understand. She controls herself strictly. She does not waste time on a personality, so what is there for people to dislike? Therefore, anyone who has a problem with her? It is their problem, not hers.”
“You can’t not have a personality.”
“Really?” Keely sounded genuinely encouraged, rather than as if she were making a point. “What would be Autumn’s?”
Fury thought about it, popping another grape into his mouth and enjoying the sweetness. “She’s disciplined, direct. A perfectionist with integrity. Reliable. Not subtle, but still very mature.”
Keely pondered his words. Eventually, she said, “for a young human, you have a very good and mature eye.”
“I’ve been treated as an adult for most of my life.”
“That would be bad, no? Not to have fun?”
Fury thought about all the missed opportunities to go out and play with his friends, or lie in, or sleep over at Dova’s house on Friday nights. “It is what it is,” he said heavily. After all, everyone always wanted something from him. That was an inescapable and unavoidable fact. Keely, he was beginning to learn, was using him to answer all the questions she had about humanity that Autumn never entertained.
To demonstrate his point, Keely decided to move on to a more entertaining question. “Is it strange to share a room with your cousin? I know males of this species enjoys alone time at this point of their life.”
Fury felt his face heat to, roughly, the temperature of the sun. “U-um… That’s not – I mean… We don’t really talk about it.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “Why not? It’s a natural process. I admit, from a faerie’s point of view, your bodily processes are far beneath ours, and far more unappealing, so do you find that as well?”
“It’s – personal!” Fury covered his face with his hands. After a second, he began to laugh. “No one asks those sorts of questions!”
“How boring of them.”
“I – ugh. I mean, it’s not awkward. You don’t… do that with someone else in the room! I mean, unless you’re actually with… Anyway.” Fury looked at the sky and hoped the ground would swallow him. “For me, personally, privacy is always nice. But Doe is cool. He was the first to…” Fury trailed off, looked down at the earnest and kind-natured fae, and took a deep breath. “Know about me.”
“Oh, he knew you when were conceived?”
“No! Jesus! I-I mean, I don’t know.” Fury broke off with a groan. How could he explain it to her? “Do faeries ever feel like they should be in another body?”
Keely frowned at this. “We can change our appearance at will. Can you not?”
Fury stared at her. “Can humans change our appearances? I – not… not in the way I mean.” He sighed at Keely’s endearing curiosity. He liked her, and he wanted to trust her. He couldn’t see of any reason why she would harbour any of the same prejudices some people did. “I was born a girl. But I’m… a guy.” He waved to himself as if to demonstrate the point. “I’ve known that for, like, years.”
“So you can change your appearance?”
“I – uh.” Fury fell back and scrubbed hands over his face, the very action reminding him that he wouldn’t be feeling stubble for a long time. “I can present like this. Like a man. But I still have… you know… female… stuff.” Fury couldn’t look her in the eye and just prayed she wouldn’t ask for clarification on the stuff.
“That would be… annoying, no?”
“More than annoying,” Fury said miserably. “I can take meds to delay puberty, which helps me feel less – we call it dysphoric. When the way you feel doesn’t match what you look like. And in the future, once I’m old enough, I can do other things that would help. It’s just… I wish I was exactly how I felt.”
“What if you could be?” Keely asked slowly.
Fury smiled sadly. “If wishes were fishes…” He saw her confusion and began to pack away the remains of their picnic. “Never mind,” he sighed.
For the first time since arriving at the house, some weeks ago, Dova gave in to the need to study. The ladder in the sitting room was old but sturdy, paint flaking off in the middle where hands and feet had gripped it. He poked his head up into the study room above and beamed to see Briony settled cross legged, her back against the wall. She smiled without looking up.
“This is the first time you’ve been here.”
“How did you know?”
In answer, she tapped her nose with her pencil. Damn werewolves. Couldn’t fool ‘em.
He hopped up the ladder and plonked himself into a beanbag. Now that Bree was here, his determination to study was waning. He wondered how to get the conversation flowing, considered asking about what she was studying but it would be the same subjects as him. She didn’t have any catch up work, unlike the cousins. Which begged the question…
“How long have you been here?” he asked, realising too late that the question was out of the blue.
Briony’s tapping pencil stilled, but consideration rather than offense made her pause. “Longer than most. Two years.”
“Oh, I thought this had been going on longer.” Dova couldn’t say why he’d thought it. It had just seemed right. The house was lived in, homely, and the team seemed to fit together – when he and his cousins weren’t messing things up.
“Maybe the other houses have. Ours was the last to be completed with your arrival.” She wiggled the pencil in his direction before placing it between pages in her textbook, pushing them both to the side. Dova smirked in victory. “Xander and Keely were already here, just a few months before. We were the first from… from Q’s rescue missions.” Her lips twisted into a sadistic smile.
“…Right.” Dova blushed at his stupid answer. “I thought everyone here was from… y’know, their prisons.”
“Not those two.” Briony didn’t elaborate. “Do you know much about those… places?”
“No. My uncle – Fury’s father – was born in them. Grew up there. My parents and grandparents had their fair share of run ins with the Council.” It felt easy to say, as it always did to think. It was so far removed from him – too much a fairy tale – for him to ever think about the emotional impact. Even here it was the elephant in the room. Briony was the first person to willingly talk about it.
The thought of it made Dova homesick, though to complicate matters he also resented the feeling. Why would he miss home, where he had no freedom, where the house was always tense? But he’d still left his parents without an explanation, and though they would know he was safe, they would still hurt from it. He’d made their worst nightmares come true.
Briony gripped his forearm out of nowhere, alarm embedded into her features. “What’s wrong?” she asked, tilting her head ever so slightly, nostrils flaring. “You’re – so sad?”
God damn werewolves, Dova thought. It was going to take some getting used to. “Homesick,” he said, and then offered up even more information she hadn’t asked for. “I essentially ran away to get here.”
“That was brave,” Briony nodded.
“No – if anything, I was a coward. I was angry. What else is new?” Dova scoffed and shook his head at his own stupidity. “I can’t stand them sometimes, but I don’t want to hurt them like this.”
“Oh,” she said in a small voice. “They aren’t bad to you?”
“No. They’re typical parents. They smother me and they’re strict, but we love each other at the end of the day. Like me and Korra,” he said, trying to smile.
Briony smiled in sympathy, her grip loosening as she patted his arm in understanding instead. “I miss my pack. I shouldn’t, but I do. I don’t think I could ever explain it to someone who hadn’t experienced pack.” She pulled her knees to her chest and rested her head on them, turned so she could watch Dova. “I suppose I just miss that closeness.”
“You have me as a consolation prize.”
It worked; her sad, faraway look vanished into delighted laughter. “That’ll have to do, somehow.”
Dova opened his mouth to reply but Briony was already turning away in expectation. Automatically Dova focused in on his heightened senses, which typically went ignored, and realised he could hear the tread of footsteps. They were light and measured: a predator. Ven.
Dova tried not to show his annoyance at the interruption.
Ven came to the top of the stairs already scowling in Dova’s direction. The half-vampire simply gave a sardonic wave, hoping Ven wasn’t going to join them. No such luck. The Alpha took a chair facing his sister and effectively ignored Doe. He handed an apple over.
“None for me?”
Ven’s answer was a disgusted look. “Are you hungry?” he asked Briony.
“I’ll be fine with the apple.” She tapped the front of the textbook. “Here to study?”
“Study buddies,” Dova sang, purely to see the reaction from Ven. The Alpha was affronted by the very idea of sharing his space with someone else. “Does he ever get used to other people in the team, or is he always this territorial?” he stage-whispered to Bree.
Her brother’s eyes narrowed by the smallest of margins, and he tracked every micromovement Dova made. He didn’t realise quite what that could do to a person until he was on the receiving end, but his hair stood up on end at being effectively hunted by a born predator.
“Play nice,” Briony admonished, though she smiled.
“We’ll study in our room,” Ven suggested, returning to his previous strategy of ignoring Dova. Briony nodded without comment, and such obvious display of subservience made him snort, albeit in revulsion.
“What?” the Alpha snapped.
“Just the casual display of authority makes me gag.”
“It’s not your place to question.”
“Oh? Not Briony’s, either.”
“Wow! Just come right out with it, boss.” Dova’s previous anger – the one directed at his parents – came rolling back in. For now it had a new target, one Alpha who was too big for his boots. Come to think of it, was this how all werewolf packs worked? It must be. Someone in charge, the rest to obey.
It was disgusting.
“You’re not pack.”
“Thank Christ for that. I don’t believe in relationships built upon control.”
The silence that followed lasted for too long. Ven stared down his nose at Dova. Doe felt the telltale bite of anger, his temper rising against his dam of self-control, and then Ven moved so fast he had no time to react. Ven was there, a breath away from Dova, and Doe jerked back so fast he hit his head on the wall and let out a curse.
“I didn’t ask your opinion.” It was low, threatening, and despite himself Dova’s heart pounded. But better sense had not yet overcome his blinding anger.
“Do you ever ask Briony’s?”
Ven blinked once, slowly, and Dova could taste the rage, see it in his eyes. And yet the wolf stood, taking his time, never breaking eye contact. It took Dova too long to realise Briony had moved and was waiting by the ladder for her Alpha.
“Let’s go,” she said gently, and without a word Ven turned away and left. Briony spared Dova one disapproving glance and followed after Ven, leaving him shivering.
Q let the silence between them settle, pondering Law’s words. Law was closely involved in the day to day of lessons and classes, so he saw more of the team than Q did at times, and his insight proved necessary.
“This is going to be more difficult than I thought.” He leaned against one of the desks and felt the hard edge dig into the back of his thighs. In one hand, he clicked a pen in time with his thoughts. “The cousins are tensing the team up. Maybe they came in too late? Everyone else had settled.”
“It’ll take time.” Law was not nearly as pensive as Q. But then, he hadn’t seen the future. “Is there anything we can do to help them along?”
Q narrowed his eyes at a smudge on his shoes. Click, click, click. The pen punctuated the quiet in a rhythm. “I have some ideas. You’re not going to like them.”
“When have I ever?” his friend muttered.
I have no idea what my schedule is going to be, but i finally got in game and just decided to post this. Apologies for a couple of times when the picture wasn’t edited or there were long blocks of text.
Anyway, those of you who follow me on tumblr may know a little bit of why I was MIA for a while over here. Basically, SAD and/or depression just kicked the shit out of me and each time I felt like I was getting back on my feet, shit happened – the UK election, my acephobic dad was a bit of a dick over xmas, and my cat was recently put down very suddenly 😦 I haven’t felt able to get in game and work on SOL for a long time, and I’m not going to promise a schedule again until I’m properly back into the swing of things.
Apologies for being a bit behind on reader, too. I will catch up soon 🙂
Oh! Fury is a trans man, and his conversation there was helpfully read over by a couple of my trans friends, but if there’s anything you want to talk to me about or pull me up on please do. I am here to learn 🙂