Lionheart: Part V

Vanessa Marino, Leonine

One year ago — October 2015

The clinic was not too far from the administration building that Lucie had shown me the way to. We walked into the reception and Katrin showed me how to sign up to see the doctor, apparently there was also someone who took care of those metal arms and legs some people had.

I took a seat only for Katrin to speak up.

“Well, I’ve got to go to classes and refresh my doubles, but I’ll have one of them waiting here for you when you get out, okay? I’ll show you the way to your first class.”

“Thank you.”

I waited for a little while until the a door opened.

“Vanessa Marino?”

“That’s me. I came as soon as you asked.”

I got up only to see who or rather what had called me. Standing in front of me was a huge blue lizard in a white coat, it’s triangular head had four eyes and little dangling bits at the crown and jaw. I blinked. What was that thing? I’d never seen anything like it… It wasn’t a chimera, that I could tell, it was too well formed, its body was something you couldn’t just manufacture on the spot.

“Hello Vanessa, I’m Doctor Sij.” It said.

“What are you? You’re not a chimera are you?”

“No, I am a venusian.”

“A venusian?”

“My species come from another world, an alternate version of the second planet away from Earth’s sun called Venus in English, but we call it Sjarikt. I came to earth when I was younger and decided to become a doctor for humans.”

“Why for humans?”

“I always found your species fascinating and wanted to help.” She said, showing me her teeth in an odd smile. “Would you please follow me inside my office?”

I followed her inside and she had me sit down in a chair. She fiddled around a clipboard with strange letters I didn’t recognize.

“I’ve gotten results from your fellow chimeras from the Atlantic city pit, you all seem to have received the same cocktail of drugs; anabolic steroids, testosterone, mixed with excelsior and erythropoietin.” She said.

“I don’t know what any of those are.”

She went over each of the drugs, several times she had to stop and explain again because there were so many words I didn’t understand.

“— and so we will slowly get you off the drugs, if we stop at once it could be very dangerous to your health. One thing we need to discuss is testosterone, I was told you are a girl, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Testosterone is the primary male sex hormones in humans, since it was added to your drug regiment it caused you to develop much like an adolescent boy would have; increased body hair, deeper voice, facial hair. If we stop that, your body will slowly begin to feminize itself; you’ll grow breasts, your body hair will lighten—” for a moment she kept describing what would happen, making sure to explain it’d take a few years for it to take full effect. “—Is that what you would like?”

“Yes.”

“Alright then.”

“I would normally never recommend the use of Excelsior or administer it to someone who request it, but as you are already addicted and seeing your circumstances, there is minimal harm in maintaining the treatment, but serious risks in stopping it.”

“Harm?”

“There is preliminary evidence Excelsior can cause neurological damage later in life such as dementia or alzheimer’s disease. However I’m afraid that as a human chimera, your natural lifespan is likely to be rather short, very few chimeras live to see their fiftieth birthday.”

I wasn’t sure how much fifty really was, I knew how to count a little but it just seemed so big…

“The gene therapy and mutagens used to create chimeras typically lead to some significant damage to DNA which in turn leads to an increase in the risk of cancers, the only preventive measure would be ablation of the affected tissues.”

“Ablation?”

“We would need to remove the parts affected by the chimerization process. I’m afraid that include your hands, significant amount of skin as well as many areas of your face.”

“No!” I jumped away when I realized what she wanted to do to me. “Don’t cut me…”

“Vanessa, I’m only discussing all the options.” She came closer and then sat on the ground next to me. “We are not the Syndicate, here you choose what happen to you and I will fight tooth and nail anyone who’d attempt to force you to go through medical procedures you don’t want, even if it would be for your own good.”

“You’re not going to do those things?”

“I would never do anything you don’t want me to do.”

She got up and offered me a hand. I hesitated but then took it, she helped me up and then sat back down.

“I’d like to run a few tests and establish a personal baseline for your health. Would that be okay with you?”

I nodded and she took me to another room.

“Now, if you feel any discomfort or anxiety, you can tell me. We’ll stop and try to make the tests more comfortable for you and reschedule if necessary.”

We went through some test, first drawing blood, I had to close my eyes and remind myself over and over that it wasn’t the same thing as back then, she was there to help me. Then there were most test, one of which had me lying down in a tiny metal tube, it was noisy and scary, I felt trapped.

“Vanessa, are you okay? Your heartbeat is speeding up.” The doctor’s voice came from a speaker.

“It’s very small in here.”

“It’ll be over in just a minute. Why don’t you close your eyes and tell me about your friends?”

I was surprised by her request but did as she said.

“There’s Isabelle, I really liked her, she was really nice but she often has these nightmares so we’d sleep together at night, that way I’d be there whenever she woke up. Then there’s Mark, he’s big but so nice, he taught me how to read a little, he loved to make stories too.” In the moment, remembering my friends, I forgot about the machine, I forgot about feeling trapped. I continued telling her about those who’d been with me all this time, choosing to remember the good moments that had kept us going.

“Vanessa?” the doctor interrupted me.

“Yes?”

“We’re done here, you can come out.”

She took me out of the machine and I never felt so relieved in my life.

“This will be everything for today, you did really well and I’m proud of you. Let me show you out unless you have any questions?”

In the moment, I couldn’t think of anything, I shook my head vigorously. She lead me outside and just as promised I saw Katrin was waiting for me out there. I didn’t have the time to take a step toward her that Lucie was now there, right in front of me.

“V!” She said. “Zwantedmetogiveyouthis.”

She then practically pushed an envelope in my hand. It took me a moment to realized she’d even done that. I opened it and saw money. If it was a lot I didn’t know, I’d seen it before and knew what it was for but what a dollar, ten or a hundred meant in term of what you could buy was beyond me. All I knew was that a chimera was worth three thousand dollar, five thousand for the pretty ones…

“What is that for?” I asked.

She took a moment to breathe.

“Zainab said you might want stuff.” Lucie shrugged. “Like clothes and… things…”

She then took another thing out, it took me a moment to realize what it was, one of those old pictures, the one you can hold in your hand. It had everyone in it, in a big house, you could see the sun through the window and they were around a table filled with food.

There were four words clumsily written on it with a marker. It took me a moment to decipher them; Wish you were here.

My chest felt so heavy all of a sudden… Had I made the right choice leaving them? Zainab had said I could go and be with them if I wanted… I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you alright?” It was Katrin.

“I don’t know.”

“Wellimoutnowseeya.” Lulie said after looking at Katrin weirdly. With that said she disappeared.

“Is there something wrong between you and Lucie?” I asked.

“Ugh… It’s complicated.”

“Complicated?”

“We… Used to date.”

“Date?”

“Um… You know, be together? And do adult things.”

I looked away, my cheeks and chest getting really hot. “Oh…”

“Didn’t work out too well, because personal reasons I kind of don’t want to get into… Now come on, let’s get you to your first class of the year; gym.”

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Lionheart: Part IV

Vanessa Marino, Leonine

One year ago — October 2015

One of the Katrin guided me outside of the house and into a little park that was further. There were people about, just enjoying their afternoon without a care in the world. There were even some dogs too.

“Do you like spicy food or mild?” Katrin asked as we walked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t eaten normal food often.”

“Normal food?”

“My owners and handlers feed us a special diet, to make sure we were in perfect condition.” The only time I’d eat other foods where when one of the VIP guests had me spend time in their lodge.”

“Wait, back up… Your owners?”

“I was in a chimera fighting ring or lab for almost as long as I can remember.”

“Oh my god…” She put her arms around me and I had to resist the urge to claw her away, instead just tensing up until she let go, which she did almost immediately. “Sorry, I’m the touchy-feely type.”

I just nodded in answer. That done, Katrin and I headed for a little wheeled stand were a man was standing, the smell of meat cooking on a grill tickled my nostrils.

“Hello Steven.” Katrin said.

“Kat. What can I get you?”

“One chorizo dog and one Italian sausage dog.” She said before handing the man a bill of money.

The man took two different sausages and put them inside bread, adding some vegetables and then drizzling some sauces on top of the meat before wrapping it in paper and giving it to her. She walked a little further and sat on a stone bench and so did I.

“You try this one first.” She said giving me one. “It’s mild Italian sausage with grilled onions, red peppers and a tomato sauce.”

I took it and then I took a bite, it was amazing; sweet, spicy, salty, hot, and fatty. Everything mixed so well.

“That’s so good.”

Katrin smiled. “Well try this one now. Whichever you prefer is yours.”

We exchanged hotdogs and I tried the second one. It had cheese, grilled red pepper and some leafy green I didn’t recognize. As I chewed a piece my mouth started burning.

“It burns.” I said, panting.

“You get used to it. Guess that one’ll be mine?”

I gave it back to her and took a moment to recover. I wanted to scratch my tongue clean of the spiciness. The Italian one was a much better and I ate it so quickly I wished I had more.

“How was it?”

“Much better. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. C’mon, I’m sure the others are dying to meet you. It’s not everyday someone new joins the house.”

As we walked back she told me the story of how Steven had opened his stall in front of the gate and to avoid all the traffic going in and out the school had allowed him to install himself in the park.

When we came home, I got to meet everyone and it was very overwhelming. The only people I’d ever really known, I’d known since we were little kids, so being expected to just bond with these new people was kind of terrifying. What if I messed up? We were so different, how could we ever really mesh together?

***

I woke up very early. I never slept much usually. Katrin was still asleep, well one of her was, the others weren’t there. I got up and careful not to make any noise walked to the door, opening it and taking a peek outside. There were already two people outside, one of whom was Katrin, the other was a boy I hadn’t met yet.

I glanced around. Was I allowed to leave? I had to be, the others didn’t seem to ask permission to go around. Who was even in charge here? I really needed to find out. I hesitantly walked out and joined the two.

“Halló.” The boy said. His accent wasn’t American. “I’m Ragnar. You’re Vanessa, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good morning.” Katrin said with a yawn.

“You look tired.”

“This me has been up all night.” She took a sip of coffee. “Soon as other me wakes up, I’ll dismiss this me and pop two fresh new me for the day. The third’s in the library cramming for our history test later.”

I didn’t really understand anything she’d said, but I didn’t ask for details, I wasn’t sure if that was wise to.

“Are you hungry?” Ragnar answered. “I made banana pancakes.”

“I never had that, but okay.”

He raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask, just getting some flat little things onto a plate and putting some melting butter on it. He put the plate in front of me with a fork and knife.

“Enjoy.”

I nodded.

“So, who is in charge here?”

“The headmistress, I guess.”

“This is her house?”

“No, she runs the school.”

“But who is in charge of the house?”

“Nobody.” Ragnar said. “Every now and then our teacher Sam check in on us and make sure we’re keeping the house clean and intact but other than that we do what we want.”

“You’re saying there’s no rules?”

“Well, as a group we’ve agreed on a few rules; after ten it’s sounds off, we split the cleaning chores evenly.”

“And no peanuts anywhere in the kitchen, my sister and I are allergic.” Ragnar added.

They continued explaining how the school worked, the classes, going out, missions and everything until a phone rang. Katrin picked it up and answered.

“It’s for you Vanesa.”

I came up and picked the phone. “Hello?”

“Good morning.” Someone said on the other hand. Their voice was odd. “I’m doctor Sij from the school’s clinic. I’d like to meet you this morning, would that be alright with you?”

I froze, doctors never meant anything good. “Yes…” I said, my voice shaking.

“I’m looking forward to meeting you. I’m sure one of your classmates can guide you here. See you later Vanessa.”

“See you later.”

The doctor hung up and so did I.

“I need to see the doctor. Can you show me where the clinic is?”

“Sure, but don’t you want to change clothes first?” Katrin asked, a frown on her face.

“Am I supposed to change clothes?”

“Well, you wore them all day yesterday and slept in them, they ought to be dirty.”

I’d only worn them for a single day, they weren’t really dirty by my standard, but here things were probably different…

“I guess I’ll get something else.”

I went upstairs and found the other Katrin was now awake, but barely. She was rubbing her face and yawning.

I opened the bag Zainab had given and spread the things out on the bed, I looked at everything one by one. There were two t-shirts, one with what I think was writing but it was weird, the other had some symbol on it, I’d seen it on people before but didn’t know what it was. There was also a long sleeved plaid shirt, one of those sweaters that go up to your neck, a black hoodie with a zipper. Then there were pants on top of it; two pair of jeans, one ripped and the other not, slim black pants with an elastic band, beige cargo shorts…

I’d never had so many options… There were some many things, what was I supposed to wear? What if I was dressed wrong?

I could feel my heart racing and my breathing get stronger. I felt a hand on my arm and jerked away, claws out and turning to face the threat, but it was just Katrin.

“It’s just me.” She said, raising her hands. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s so much stuff, I don’t know what’s right to wear.” It took me a second to realized I’d shouted at her. “Sorry…”

“It’s fine.” She said before looking at the clothes. “If you think this is a lot, then don’t ever look in my closet.” She laughed. “It’s kind of cold today so what about this top,” she picked the turtleneck “with those nice jeans?” she picked the one without holes in them. “I think that’d look nice, don’t you?”

“I guess.”

I removed the clothes I’d been wearing, they weren’t really dirty, but I guess you’re not supposed to wear the same clothes twice in the outside world.

“There you go, you look perfect Nessa.”

“Nessa?” I paused, the nickname brought bag old foggy memories… Memories of before all this…

“Is it okay if I call you that? It’s shorter and I think it’s kind of cute.”

I nodded. “You can.”

“Well, I’ll add your dirty clothes to my laundry and I’ll wash them later, okay?”

I nodded and she put it in a basket by her bed.

“Now, let me show you the way.”

Together we left the house and toward the center of the academy ground where the clinic was.

Into the Unknown: Part XI

Into the Unknown

Part XI: Forgiveness

It was a thirty minute drive to Saint Andrew’s presbyterian church, so Allen got to meet my mom and grandparents who of course bombarded him with questions. Some innocuous, some less.

“Where are your parents?” Grandma asked.

“They don’t live around here,” Allen answered.

“Couldn’t they take the weekend off?”

I saw Allen flinch a little at the continued questioning.

“They’re very busy people.” I said, coming to Allen’s aid. I found his hand on the seat and gave him a little finger squeeze in support before diverting the conversation to more innocent topics, like food, that was always a good way to get the others talking.

Soon enough, we arrived at the church, I’d been there the last few sundays.  Saint Andrew’s presbyterian church was one of those simpler church, a small brick building with a white belltower and some simple stained windows on the sides.

Just like usual, Reverend Burke was at the door greeting everyone and welcoming them into the house of God. He was this tall mixed race man in his sixties with salt and pepper hair.

“Misses Campbell. It’s good to see the both of you again.” He said recognizing my mom and I. “I believe we have some new faces.” My grandparents introduced themselves and then the Reverend’s gaze settled on Allen.

“I don’t believe I’ve had the honor of meeting you before.”

“Hello Reverend, I’m Allen,” he said, ducking his head a little in respect.

“Welcome to our church Allen, please come on in and make yourself comfortable.”

We went inside, found an empty pew by the middle of the church and sat down. It didn’t take too long for the service to get started. Everything was pretty standard, prayers, hymns, children’s story time, the sermon —which the Reverend opted to focus on the importance of loving one another and the unity of the community— after a good two hours, the service concluded and the usual little social mixer began, with canapés prepared by the Reverend’s wife and some of the older church ladies.

While mom and company talked to the Reverend, I dragged Allen to the little buffet, stuffing some food into my mouth.

“So, how was your first presbyterian service?” I asked once I was done chewing my first bite.

“I guess I was expecting something different.” He said, bringing his arm up and rubbing the back of his head. “I mean it was, but it was also really similar to what I’m used to. Just more hope and forgiveness instead of fire, and anger and shouting?”

I laughed. “Well, I hope you liked it and I’d love it if you’d come again with me.”

“I’ll think about it, but it is nice to be in a church again,” he admitted.

“Were you afraid god might smite you with a lightning bolt if you dared come for being such a sinner?” I teased.

“With the way my mum talks about parahumans…a little,” he laughed.

“I’m sorry.” I pouted and quickly gave him a hug. “No smiting here, just repentance, forgiveness, and love.” Although I hadn’t meant it, the words took a little sour note at the end.

“Caroline?” Allen said, frowning.

“Sorry, it’s just I’m thinking about Charlie and I wasn’t really fair, or understanding, or forgiving toward her this morning… I just left with a bitter feeling in my heart rather than try to make it up…”

“Oh, If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly happened?” he asked, looking a little uncomfortable.

“I don’t really know… Charlie has this friend called Marian she never mentioned, that girl who showed up at the dinner. And apparently they’re really close, Charlie swears she’s straight but Jenna says otherwise and I don’t know what to make of it all… I mean, I believe in Charlie, at least I want to… I’m probably just being dumb and silly, am I?”

“Okay… I don’t really know why Charlie never mentioned Marian but perhaps she would’ve in time as she felt more comfortable with you. Marian might be straight or Jenna might be right and she isn’t. But I don’t think that really matters because Charlie is with you and you seem to make her extremely happy. I don’t think you need to be doubting your relationship… did that help at all?” he finished.

I took a moment to think it over. “You, know what, you’re right. I’ve been thinking about this way too hard, Charlie and I love each other, that’s what matters.” A smile appeared at my lips. “Thanks for listening to me vent.”

“Any time, least I can do,” he replied.

“Well, thank you. You’re a good friend.” I said, my smile getting wider. “Say, I doubt you ever thought you’d give some gay relationship advice in a church, right?”

“Gotta say it’s a new experience,” he laughed.

“We’re Presbyterian, it’s okay here. Heck, Reverend Burke married a gay couple two weeks ago.”

“Wow, better not mention that part when I tell my mum I found a church. She’d probably need more blood pressure tablets.”

“You’re going to church, they don’t need to know the details beyond that.” I said with a grin. “And if they’re not happy, the Reverend could give them a sermon or two about homosexuality in the bible and how it doesn’t apply today to consensual relationships. And unlike your parents he’s got a doctorate in that stuff.”

“I guess I’ll keep it in mind, good thing I’m straight at least. I think being parahuman is bad enough for them to cope with…”

My first thought was that his straightness could be questionable but I didn’t voice it, he was slowly coming to term with everything being different, better not push it and risk a panic.

“You try being a doubly disabled, trans, possibly gay, girl on top of it.” I said, nudging him. “But as hard as the transition is, I can tell you that it won’t always feel like something massively stressful, I had people harass me when I first manifested, but eventually people just accept it, moved on and it became barely noteworthy.”

“I have no way to imagine that. The closest thing I can use is the difficulty I get as a person of colour. I admit I don’t know a lot about the whole gender gap issues but I do have some awareness I’m better —”

I interrupted him. “Allen, it’s fine I was teasing.” I said with a chuckle.

I looked around and saw people were starting to leave for other things, notably sunday brunch. “It’s almost time to go. Let’s find me parents.”

He nodded and we started looking around. As we did, I spoke to him.

“So, I’m going to go home, make things better with Charlie and get my girlfriend back. Then how about we continue your training? You did so well last time, imagine how far you’ll be in a few more sessions?”

“Sure,” he nodded sounding apprehensive.

We found my family and after a few minutes left. We went for a quick brunch in town and then we dropped Allen at Ravenhold before going back to the Coleman house. I didn’t have to go inside to find Charlie along with her friend Mariam. The two of them were outside on Charlie’s own personal skatepark, sitting on the ramp and eating. While the others went inside I went to Charlie’s side, feeling my chest tighter than ever, my heart trying to escape it.

When Charlie saw me, she waved at me. “Hey again.” She then said, a nervous tinge to her word.

“Hey Charlie.” I bit my lip, my heart already beating out of my chest. “Marian.” We looked at each other and nodded. “Would you mind if I talk to Charlie?”

“Okie-dokie.” She said before going for the house after asking for Charlie’s snack stash.

I looked back at Charlie and we took a seat on the edge of the skating ramp. I took a deep breath before speaking.

“I’m sorry… I should’ve had more faith and not rushed you like that about Marian.”

“And I’m sorry for getting defensive.” Charlie sighed. “If I hadn’t we probably wouldn’t have had this dumb argument.”

I opened my arms and she came forward, giving me a hug.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” I whispered. “Water under the bridge?”

“Why don’t you properly introduce me to your best friend then? We didn’t really have the chance last night.”

She smiled, took my hand and we both went to the house together. Mariam was in the living room, snacking on some gummies from a large bag while giving Grump some ear scratches.

“Yo.” She said. “Everything alright?”

“I think it’ll be.” I said looking at Charlie who nodded. “I’m Caroline.”

“Well we kind of introduced ourselves back at the dinner. But I’m Marian, I’m glad to meet you and I’m sorry if me just coming out of the blues caused you some troubles.”

“It’s not your fault and it’s all water under the bridge.”

“Glad to hear that.” She said with a smile. “Since you’re my BFF’s girl, guess we better be friends. I heard you like cooking, I’m craving something sweet, how about we bake some cake? You’ll see I’m pretty good at baking.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” I said a grin appearing on my lips. “Can’t be worse than a certain someone.”

“Oh I have got to tell you the time Charlie mixed celsius and fahrenheit we ended up with a log of coal. Or that time she put salt instead of sugar or— If I keep going we’ll never have a cake.”

“I have enough money to buy a dozen bakeries, I don’t need to learn how to make a cake though.” Charlie said, pouting.

“But store bought is so not the same thing.” I said, which Mariam agreed with a ‘heck yeah it isn’t.’ “Good thing you have us.”

“Go bake!” Charlie said, “No more picking on me!”

Together, Marian and I went to the kitchen and as promised, she had quite some skills. After some work and a bit of waiting, we found ourselves eating the chocolatetiest cake in history.

Gadgets & People: Part IX

Gadgets & People

Part IX: Alone Time

After some playtime with Vani, it came time for my family to head to the local airport so they could catch their midday flight back home to the UK. We escorted the three of them to the landing strip.

“I didn’t really get the chance to tell you, but I’m so proud of you.” Mum said. “I’m glad to see you finally doing something you want.”

“Most parents would prefer their kid don’t run into danger and fight supervillains.”

“Well, I’d be a little more secure if you’d chosen something safe like knitting or bowling as your passion, but it doesn’t matter.” She said with a smile wrapping her arms around me. “Whatever happen, keep pursuing your dreams okay?”

“Yes mum.”

“Take care of yourself son.” That over with, she turned toward Jaeger. “And you too Jaeger, take care of yourself and maybe of Sanjay too, for me?” She decided to hug him and Jaeger looked like he was about to die of a heart attack from the attention.

Vani also gave him a hug, wrapping her arms around his legs while Sana opted for a simple verbal goodbye before they all boarded the plane. We watched them take off and fly away until the charter plane was nothing but a little dot in the skies.

“So, what now?” Jaeger asked.

“After two days of family things, I need to move some, I’m feeling kind of sluggish. I was thinking getting some football practice done. Want to join me?”

We got a bus back to Ravenhold and stopped by the gym to get a ball. Rather than play inside we went onto the lawn and declared a pair of trees as the goal posts. We played for a moment and Jaeger might have been quick and agile but he didn’t have much experience playing football. I was about to score when Jaeger grabbed my shirt and pulled me off balance, making me fall down.

“That is so not fair!” I said, chuckling as I rolled on the ground.

“I didn’t agree to any rules.” He said, a little cockily. “You ought to know, I always play rough.”

“Fine.” I said getting up. “The gloves are off, no more rules.”

I grinned and got the ball back. When he tried to get it away I tripped him. For a second I felt a pang of regret only to see the grin on his face. He got back up and we went back at it. Soon enough the ball became secondary to trying to upstage the other. After a while we found ourselves covered in sweat and out of breath sprawled down on the grass. We just sort of laughed at the situation.

“Well, that might not have been proper football, but it was one hell of a workout.”

“I can’t deny that.” He said a smile plastered across his lips.

“You know what? I’m starving.”

“Me too, I could eat a whole cow.”

The whole cow and Hinduism thing had probably slipped his mind, but I had to laugh at his enthusiasm.

“Does it have to be a cow? I’ll let you know make a killer lentils stew.” I proposed.

“That does sound pretty good.”

I got up first and gave him a hand to his feet. We went together back to the house. Most people were out, notably Caroline and Allen who were our designated cooks.

“I better take a shower.” Jaeger said lifting his shirt and fanning himself. We were both drenched in sweat.

“You do that, I’m going to start something to cook and join you.” I said.

“Join me… Right, I’ll be showering.”

He left and it took me a moment to realize how that might have been misinterpreted. I found my cheeks getting suddenly warm at the thought. I really hadn’t meant it that way, to be honest I’d never really been the type to think about those kinds of things…

I pushed the thoughts aside and focused on I whipping up a quick sambar along with some basmati rice. Once they were set to cook I ran to the shower — on my own mind you — and washed up quickly.

Jaeger had apparently opted for a long shower because I was done before he was. We watched the food simmer for a moment, taking a few minutes to go over homeworks until it was ready to go.

“It’s such a nice day, want to eat outside?”

“Sure.”

I put two portions into some sealed plastic tubs and those into a bag before walking out. We found our way into a corner of the grounds and into a miniature thicket of trees where we sat down on the ground, enjoying a moment alone in the warm afternoon.

“That smells amazing.” He said opening his tub. He shoveled some with a spoon into his mouth. “If everything you make is this good, I’ll have to consider becoming vegetarian.” He said jokingly.

“Thanks, my mum taught me how to cook. She’s a heart surgeon and a brilliant cook.”

“That your step mum or your bio mum?”

“Step, I never met my biological mother.” I said, I saw him arch an eyebrow. “She died when I was just a baby.” I sighed. “My dad had a little, let’s call it a marital slip up, with one of his childhood friend. She was dying of a chronic illness and shortly before she passed I was born.”

“Oh.”

“My family has quite a bit of drama to it.” I sighed. “I mean, it’s probably not that much, and there’s definitely people who had it worse…”

“I don’t have any memories of my biological parents.” He said after a moment, then chewing his lower lip nervously. “I was adopted”

“Happily adopted or…” I left the rest of the question unsaid.

He took a second to answer, looking down and shuffling his food around with his fork. “It’s complicated…” He sighed. “But I was accepted. I don’t know if that would’ve been the case with my biological parents…” He paused and I arched a brow only for him to reveal why: “I’m a transguy’

Immediately a lot of thoughts passed through my mind. Some of them were pretty darned stupid the moment I thought about them, so I didn’t share any of them.

“Okay, eh, I’m not sure what to answer to that without saying something really stupid and possibly offensive…” I said, letting out a little nervous chuckle. “But it’s really cool with me.”

A smile broke through his facade, it was big and genuine. “I don’t expect you to be an expert don’t worry”

“Well, I definitely should pick up a book or something on the subject so I’m on the safe side of not being a dummy. But, thank you telling me, I know it’s not something that’s easy to share.”

That’s when Jaeger’s phone started beeping. He took it out and saw what it was. “Oh it’s Harley, they’re finally awake so I probably should go and see them. If that’s alright?”

“Of course it is, you go do that, I’ve got some work to catch up on.”

We got up and he sort of turned around before I spoke. “Wait.” He turned back to face me. “Are you okay for a short hug?”

“Oh, erm, sure.”

I gave him a quick friendly hug and I saw his cheeks flush a little. It was a little stiff but not quite as much as it had been with my mum. He definitely wasn’t used to those kinds of things.

“Alright, you can go now. Thanks for sharing. Oh and if you and Harley need the room, just send me a text?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

With that he left me, that smile from earlier still on his lips.

He was opening up, and that really meant something. In retrospect none of it explain how he had become a chimera or gotten tangled with the Black Ace, but I had a feeling that would all come in time, when he’d be ready to share, when he’d trusted me.

And for him to trust me, it meant that I had to trust him and let him come out to me about his past on his own terms. And that was the right thing to do.