Magical Security Taskforce




1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 21: Merger

Session One

July always felt like a raw deal to Ellen Monroe. The sky was bright and cloudless, creating a gorgeous outdoors that begged frolicking. Out or in, the temperature was sweltering; her workplace didn't have the greatest air circulation. The tiny fan at her desk would have worked just as well outside. From the window, she saw high school girls walk by in short skirts and low-cut tank tops, eating ice cream because they had nothing else to do. Ellen swore those girls were there just to remind all the workers inside who really got to enjoy the summer. She couldn't even live vicariously through her son, as Troy was at the academy for his magic studies. She didn't get anything out of his stories, yet she knew he was probably having a blast.

She leaned back and met eyes with her next-cubicle neighbor. “Teacher, can we have work outside today?” Her co-worker giggled.

In spite of times like these when she wanted to be anywhere but the office, Ellen generally liked her job. She worked at a call center that handled customer service for businesses too lazy to answer their own phones but not cheap enough to outsource to India. Thankfully, the companies she was trained to serve were those rare places that were committed to maintaining a degree of quality and not pissing off or screwing over customers. So she didn't have to put up with too much bitching. It wasn't glamorous, but she took satisfaction in being able to not only pull off the whole single working mother thing, but make it look effortless.

It was a slow day for her, and like most slow days she spent it staring out the window and crawling various news websites. She heard a door swing open, so she quickly Alt-Tabbed to her dummy Word document and turned to see who had entered. Ellen was not expecting her boss: being the boss, he saw himself entitled to enjoy the nice weather. But there he was, accompanied by a tall gentleman wearing a business suit and a slimy grin.

“You're not golfing?” Ellen said.

The boss squirmed, glancing at the other man before looking at Ellen. “Uh, I got in nine this morning. Just showing Mr. Silars here our operation.”

“Mr. Silars?” One look at this man made her uncomfortable. Everything about him- his suit, his shoes, his face and his hair were impeccably clean, even shiny. But that smirk of his told Ellen everything. This was a corporate suit and he was after something.

The grin on Silars' face extended another inch. “Darren Silars, one of the vice-presidents of Golden Sun.”

His smile had grown for a reason: no other introductions were necessary. Of course Ellen had heard of Golden Sun. In fact, she had three of their credit cards and used all of them more often than she should have. This was a major financial institution known the world over. But this wasn't a time to be starstruck. None of the companies Ellen's employer worked with came close to touching Golden Sun's magnitude. Silars was a shark in a lake of guppies. Whatever his reason for being here, something bad was bound to happen when he opened his jaws.

Silars scanned the room and the sixteen answering stations. “So this is what you call the main room?”

Ellen's boss, absorbing the subtle insult, nodded. “Yes, this is the main hub. Sixteen stations, some operating twenty-four hours. We are expanding into a vacant office next door, but need some funds to clear up before moving in.”

“And I suppose that's where I come in?” Silars said. Ellen imagined the shark settling in behind a perch and opening its mouth.

At least her boss was not surrendering easily. “We aren't begging for help, Mr. Silars. The funds will clear up. But, since you expressed an interest in working with us, anything you can do to facilitate the process would be appreciated.”

“Working with us? As in a client?” blurted Ellen. Sexy as it may be to serve such a large business, it was terribly out of place for both their mission statement and Golden Sun. She doubted Golden Sun even had a domestic call center, regardless of how many 'accidents' resulted in lost payments, misrouted private information or one or two extra zeros at the ends of invoices.

Silars chuckled. “We are thinking of investing some capital into this company. And yes, that could involve using your services.”

“Um, yes, if you'd like, we can go into my office to discuss the details of that,” her boss interjected, gesturing towards a door on the far end of the room. Nodding, Silars smugly led the way, looking over the shoulders of each operator. As he passed Ellen, the bad vibe surrounding him grew. She already thought he was trouble, but suddenly her initial fears were wrong. He was much more than trouble. Darren Silars seemed downright evil.

When her boss passed by, she tugged on his sleeve and whispered, “Is this guy really investing with us?”

Her boss nodded gravely. “Not so much going to. More like already has. Golden Sun now holds a substantial amount of equity in the company.”

“How much?”

“Something like 51 percent.”

Ellen narrowed her eyes at Silars. He stopped, turned back to her and the boss, and smiled once more. “That's not good, is it?” she mumbled.

“Nope. Not at all,” her boss replied.


Session Two

The whole mess with Golden Sun bothered Ellen. To her surprise, it continued to bother her outside the office. Normally, any stress she encountered melted over the right sandwich at the deli during her lunch break. But she couldn't stop thinking about it. The more she did, the less the pieces fit. What interest would a successfully corrupt Manhattan corporation have with a humble call center in small-town Ohio?

Ellen had to get this off her mind and onto someone else's before she returned to the office. That wasn't so easy: her girlfriends had jobs too and probably wouldn't appreciate the intrusion. She only had one trusty sounding board that was perennially unemployed.

Unfortunately for Troy, he may not have had a job, but he was in the middle of a vital class for water-based Thrusting at that moment. Worse yet, he wasn't nearly popular enough for his peers to constantly call him, so he never made the habit of turning his cell phone off during classes. As a grand finale, this particular lecture hall at Central had excellent acoustics. The entire room heard his Rascal Flatts ringtone in concert-quality surround sound.

This, of course, included Prof. Weatherstone. It must have been an important class for her to be lecturing herself, and she didn't appreciate the interruption. Troy fumbled for his phone to turn it off, but she teleported in front of him before he could. She smiled, and with a quick gesture the phone flew into her hands.

Her condescending face flipped to one more pleasant as she took the call. “Hello?” Troy cringed, imagining the response on the other end and hoping it wasn't Marie. “This is Alicia. Troy's busy right now.” Another pause. Of all the scenarios running through Troy's head, he wasn't ready for this one: “Oh my God, Ellen! How long has it been?”

Troy's eyes bulged, but by this point he was resigned to the background. Weatherstone returned to the front of the room, the entire class still giving her full attention. Some continued to take notes. “Yes, I'm a professor here now. Troy's in my class... yes, he's doing a wonderful job.” Troy buried his head as a few classmates turned to him and snickered.

Weatherstone sat on top of her desk and crossed her legs. Every teacher listed students answering their phones during class as a pet peeve, but she seemed to have no problem interrupting her lecture to take a call. She was tenured, of course. “How's Frank?” Somewhere in the middle of the answer, she frowned. “Oh, that's too bad. He was always committed to his work. I kept telling you that, didn't I?”

Embarrassing as it was, Troy leaned in to listen to this. Somewhere in this chat there might have been some hints about his father. Unfortunately, his mother seemed to be venting to Weatherstone, and he couldn't infer much from a bunch of nods and uh huhs.

“You should have stayed in touch more. Troy would have made a great guardian.”

A guardian? Troy? He never realized he was up for the position, and the shock of hearing that made him forget he was leaning forward. Troy fell backwards, slamming into the back of his chair. It stung.

“Oh, um... let me ask,” Weatherstone continued. She looked at Troy. “You're under Molly Pearson, right?” Troy nodded and rubbed his back as Weatherstone relayed that to his mother.

One classmate leaned towards Troy and whispered. “You're Pearson's recruit?”

“Yeah,” Troy muttered.

“She really as much of a bitch as she seems?”


The kid sighed. “I am sorry I ever made fun of you.”

Troy turned to him. The boy was staring down at the table, shaking his head. “When were you making fun of me?” Troy asked, confused.

“Behind your back.”


The head-shaking grew faster. “Because I am a petty, insecure human being.”

While the kid went back to his world of self-doubt, Troy continued to ponder the whole Guardian thing. Having only known about the MST for a year, the thought that he could have been Molly's equal was intriguing.

He would get the chance to ask about it: after another five minutes of chatter between old girlfriends, Weatherstone confiscated the phone until the end of class.

“Sorry about that. Your father and I were classmates. He brought Ellen along a couple times. Really pissed off his roommates as I understand it. But she and I were friends. Haven't seen them since their wedding though.”

With that taking care of any possible answers about Frank's current whereabouts, Troy asked about the possibility of being a guardian.

“Well, sure, your Dad was a mage. That's usually all it takes. I'd love to say we don't discriminate based on that sort of thing, but somebody has to show the new kids around.”

After a moment of thought, and not long enough for Troy to get a word in, she added, “Now Ellen doesn't practice, so there was no guarantee you'd be any good at magic. Not that that precludes anybody from being a guardian. It's a supervisory and instructional position. But it's a headache to take kids with a real future and teach them skills you don't have. Maybe Frank kept you out of the loop until we could get a better read on your potential.”

Given how much Molly had originally doubted his ability, Troy found this a perfectly reasonable and logical explanation. He nodded in understanding.

It would have been a fine way to end the conversation had Weatherstone not added, very hesitantly, “Yes... hopefully that was the reason.”

If Troy wasn't so horrible at reading non-verbal cues, he almost certainly would have realized that there may have been other, less genuine, motives.


Session Three

No such interruption awaited Kathryn in her classes. She would have loved one. Instead, she struggled to pay attention to the TA's lecture on temporal thrusting. He had been droning on for an hour now and she still wasn't sure exactly what temporal thrusting was. She didn't care; she'd never use it.

Kathryn had not deviated much in her reasoning behind her enrollment at Central. She was there to keep an eye on Troy and keep Molly honest. Besides adding 'party with the college kids' to the list, she hadn't accomplished much either. While she had technically learned the same basics as everyone else, she wasn't comfortable with any of them. To cast flight, she needed to hold her staff in the air, which was terribly awkward. Her teleportation had also grown rusty as her athletic sensibilities preferred walking to any immobile alternative.

Molly and the academy had noticed this, of course. Yet they insisted that the reason for her lack of spellcasting ability was due to a focusing issue or some other explanation Kathryn didn't understand. They never admitted what Kathryn had always believed- that magic just didn't suit her. In fact, her instructors went out of their way to reassure Kathryn that her magical energy level was actually higher than normal. Concurring, Molly adjusted Kathryn's schedule to include several courses geared toward her situation. Kathryn saw them as special ed classes and did not appreciate the switch.

Not that the general classes she took were any better. This was a normal Thrusting class and its only redeeming factor was its large class size. That made it easier for Kathryn to catch up on her sleep.

She leaned back in her chair and drifted off, her hand clutching the top of her staff. As her head slumped down, the staff fell forward and clanged against her desk. That would have made plenty of noise, but it was drowned out by the cyclone that flew out of the staff and into the back of the poor student in front of her. It knocked him forward, smashing his nose and glasses against his desk.

Clutching his face, he turned around. “The hell?!”

All the noise drew Kathryn's eyes open. She blinked at the angry injured kid in front of her. “What?”

Before he could attack her, the TA intervened. “Okay, what's going on here?”

“She just attacked me!” shouted the kid.

“Okay, don't sweat it. You go to the clinic. I'll deal with this.”

He obeyed, begrudgingly: the last time someone went to the clinic with a bloody nose, Kiki's remedy involved a vice grip. Meanwhile, the TA turned to Kathryn. “So why did you feel the need to bust him up? Not all of us know how to fix broken glasses.”

“I do!” replied about a dozen classmates.

Kathryn opened her mouth to say something in defense, but the truth wasn't much better than the allegation. Finally, she figured that the punishment for dozing off wasn't as bad as deliberately attacking another classmate. Still, she could try to manipulate the truth: “I guess I lost control of it. Thing has a mind of its own.”

The TA grinned; Kathryn wasn't sure if he had bought it. “Did it, now? Certainly you must have put a lot of energy into it to get that kind of reaction. Perfect! You can be the first to try temporal thrusting.”

A wave of his hand compelled Kathryn down to the floor of the lecture hall. Suddenly the large class size was a bad thing as its entire composition stared down at Kathryn. Her eyes were on the TA, who stood twenty feet away up one of the aisles.

“Now... I'm going to shoot at you. Do everything I said in the lecture and slow the projectile down. Ready?”

“No!” replied Kathryn.

It didn't matter. The TA summoned a ball of stone and hurled it at Kathryn. For a moment, Kathryn played along, trying to recall the steps to slow it down to a harmless speed. But she had no idea where to start conceiving the concept. In desperation, she whacked her staff at it.

Not only did she make contact, she sent the stone straight back- a line drive right at another classmate, likely faster than the TA's throw. Before she could panic at the thought of injuring another bystander, the student instinctively threw up a spell. The stone slowed down, suddenly restrained by just the air around it. It still continued on its path, but the student caught it easily with his free hand.

After sighing in relief, the TA smiled. “Excellent! That was perfect... uh... what's your name again?”

With the TA occupied by the new class hero, Kathryn trudged back to her chair. She slumped down and wondered if she should dare let herself fall asleep.

The student next door leaned in. “Good swing,” he said, half-jokingly. “You should play baseball.”

“I do. I should be playing it right now,” she muttered.

He leaned in. “You know who can cheer you up? Reggie.”

Kathryn looked up. Then looked at this kid. Not only was this a college student, something about him made her wonder which fraternity he was pledging.

“Are you inviting me?” she asked, sickened at the thought.

He smirked, providing a sufficient answer.

“How old are you?”


“I'm sixteen.”

He backed away, suddenly nervous about the encounter and scanning the room for witnesses. Kathryn, meanwhile, sighed. After everything that had happened, she was in a sour mood. She was still convinced that she wasn't disposed to magic, and still couldn't convince the MST of that. With another two weeks of this, she was going to need a lot of cheering up.

“Sure, let's go,” she told the guy.


Session Four

By now, in the third term at Central, the class schedules had diverged enough to create days where Molly's recruits never saw each other until late in the afternoon. Molly liked this very much as it allowed her much more solitude in her office: one person in the commons kept to themselves, but two or more usually created a circus.

Molly's favorite time this term was on Thursdays from 4:00 to 4:30. A unique rift in the schedule allowed Molly a moment of downtime before a 5:00 meeting, while coinciding with Renee's return from her classes at four. With Yuki leaving for a 4:15 class and Troy, Kathryn and Donovan not back until 4:30, Molly and her sister could enjoy a moment alone with no distractions.

“You want some tea?” asked Renee from the kitchen.

“Yes, thank you.” Molly managed a smile. Tea between sisters... how incredibly girly, yet irresistibly appropriate, she thought. Normally she preferred coffee.

Renee gave her a cup and sat down. “My shields are getting better.”

“I saw that,” Molly replied, taking a sip. She had access to all of her recruits' evaluations and checked them daily. Renee's had been surprisingly average, so Molly noted any positive marks.

“I tell you, I wish this came as easy for me as it does for you.”

“No, then you have other problems.” Molly stopped herself before she elaborated. Given Renee's attention span, Molly wondered how committed her sister would remain to magic knowing about the 'other problems.'

Then again, perhaps Renee would figure it out herself. “What, like demons attacking?”

Molly paused, holding an uncertain stare at Renee before answering, “The incident with the Zukoni last year wasn't the first time I've been targeted. Be happy your biggest concern is your performance here.”

Renee shook her head. “But I want to help you. When we were battling back then, you were great. But so was Troy and Kathryn. And Yuki helped out and even Donovan tried to. What did I do... besides accidentally knock out Bryce?”

With a hard frown, Molly looked away. She didn't want help from Troy or Kathryn. She didn't want help from Renee either. She'd rather none of them be involved at all, or at least see them acclimate to the MST through normal means.

“It's unfair for a mere recruit to be relied upon. It puts undue pressure on you and changes your educational priorities in a way that may not be best for the long term. Not everyone in the academy is best suited for combat.” In Molly's estimation, the lucky ones weren't.

“With any luck, Uriel will find us a decent field agent to scare away the demons,” Molly added.

A knock came from the front door. Molly was tempted to ignore it, but Renee stood up and readied her arm. “Let me see if I can open this. One... two...” She swiped her arm forward, but nothing happened.

Molly sighed. “Two things: one- you can't just will the door open when there's a knob. Two- that door only opens when one of us grasps the handle. Which in this case is you since you're already up.

With a lighthearted pout but no sincere protest, Renee opened the door manually. She reeled back several steps as an overwhelming sulfurous odor poured through the entrance. On the other side of the door, Kurt tried to look as poised as he could with tattered and soiled clothes, dirt all over his face and arms, and hair blackened further with soot and ash.

“Long time, no see,” he deadpanned.

“Oh my God, you're filthy!” Renee shouted, already halfway to the bathroom to get a towel.

“Yeah, um... can I sit down?” Both sisters nodded slowly. Molly, in stunned silence, gestured to a chair. Kurt sat and wiped off his face with the towel Renee provided. “Sorry if I get this chair dirty,” he said.

Molly shook her head. “Troy will clean it later. Where in the hell were you?”

“I don't remember which hell it was exactly. One of the ones the Zukoni are making a play for.”

Renee gasped. “The Zukoni?! Again?”

“Well, since I already dealt with them once, they figured it was a good world to try me out on.”

“Why would you get sent abroad?” Molly asked.

“Abroad?” Renee turned to Molly, unsure of the terminology.

Molly clarified: “Another world. Since the MST and all the demon factions have large armies, we've created a number of worlds to do battle in to avoid fighting here.”

“Yeah, I was doing some recon work for my internship,” Kurt said.

“Internship?” Renee looked Kurt up and down again, and wondered if that towel would ever be reusable.

“Yeah,” Kurt huffed. “Idea was to get me up to speed on my new position with a two month trial by fire.” He scratched his head, sending bits of ash out of his hair. “Or lava in my case.”

Renee turned to Molly. “Jeez, did you have to do that to become a guardian?”

Molly's eyes remained fixed on Kurt. “No. Kurt's been fully qualified as a guardian for months. Which means he's doing something else.”

Kurt, sadly, nodded and lowered his head. Already, Molly didn't like where this was heading. “You want the bad news or the good news?” he asked.

With a grumble, Molly replied, “Good news.”

Kurt raised his eyebrows, but didn't smile. “Good news is I'll be back in town next week.”

“Goddamn it,” Molly spat, standing up and pacing the room.

“Why's that bad?” Renee asked Molly.

“Because I'm your new field agent,” Kurt answered.

Again, Renee was confused. “Why's that bad?” she repeated.

“Because he's inexperienced. And his magic level's fine for his age, but it won't scare anybody,” Molly replied angrily. “God, and Uriel must not be too confident either if he sent you away for two months.”

Kurt shrugged. “Marlowe didn't have anything else for me and no one else was applying. They figured it was the easiest solution to both our problems.”

“Not a good one though.” Molly marched up to him and leaned forward. “Do you have any idea how much danger you're in?”

Putting a dirty hand on her shoulder, Kurt stood up. “Considering I just got back from Mordor, it sounds like a vacation.” After she shirked off his hand, and started wiping the residue off her shirt, Kurt smiled. “Besides, what kind of friend would I be if I let you guys go at it alone?” He turned to Renee. “Can I use your shower?”

After being awed for a moment, Renee smiled and nodded. “Sure!”

Clutching the towel, Kurt walked to the bathroom. Before he entered, he turned back to Molly and said, “Nice to see you again.”

Molly slumped into the couch and did not look back. Still, though with a heavy voice, she managed to respond, “Yes.”


Session Five

While Molly left for her meeting, fretting about Kurt's new job, Renee's biggest concern was the chair. Kurt hadn't been sitting in it for five minutes, but that was enough to soot it up good. Rather than wait for Troy to receive the cleaning order from Molly, Renee was going to see to this herself. Problem was, being a college-style dorm room, hardcore cleaning supplies were an afterthought. There was nothing useful in the kitchen, and even if there was anything in the bathroom, Kurt had annexed it for his shower.

That left one alternative, which Renee was far too eager to turn to- her weaving textbook. As she went into her room to retrieve it and find a relevant spell to try, Kathryn returned. Another dour day of being treated like a remedial case and not presenting much of an argument otherwise. She threw her staff and bag into her room, grabbed a soda from the fridge and plopped down in the chair, too irritated to notice the appearance and smell of it. At least for the first second.

“Ew,” she moaned, popping back up and seeing what she had just sat in.

From her room, Renee warned, “Kathryn, don't sit in the...” She came out and saw that it was too late. “Welcome back.”

Kathryn frowned. “Was it Donovan or Yuki?”

“Neither.” Studying a page from her book, Renee stood in front of the chair and cast a spell. If anything, the odor got even worse as all the dirt rose out of the fabric and hovered in the air. Consulting the book again, Renee declared, “And now we can vacuum it. BRB.” And she teleported away.

“BRB?” Kathryn replied, to nobody. All of Renee's scurrying about, yapping and casting spells had become silence, except for the rushing water from the bathroom.

Seconds later, Renee walked through the front door. “And of course the vacuum's checked out.” Apparently giving up, Renee returned the book to her room and sat down on the couch.

“Who's in the shower?” Kathryn asked, joining Renee.

Renee just giggled. “Oh yeah. You're going to be happy.”

“Why?” Renee giggled again, so Kathryn sternly added, “Renee, I'm not in the mood. This place is getting on my nerves.”

The bathroom door opened and Kurt stepped out, shirtless and drying his hair with a clean towel.

“I'm not going to bother washing that shirt,” he said. “I'll borrow something from Troy or buy a new one at the bookstore.”

Kathryn almost jumped when she heard him, but froze at the sight. She wasn't sure how long it would be until they'd meet again. Initially, two months wasn't a long time at all, but he seemed different to her, as if he had been gone much longer. She couldn't pinpoint it though, as she never paid close enough attention before to tell whether he had a new expression in his eyes or a better toned chest. She was sure noticing both now.

“Hey, Kathryn. Did Renee tell you the news?” Kurt approached them and, with a half-shrug, sat in the dirty chair. He was careful not to lean back, but looked down with some scrutiny. “Cleaning spell?”

“Yeah, vacuum's checked out,” Renee explained.


“So what's the big news?” Kathryn asked.

“Well,” Kurt put it as plainly as he could. “There weren't any guardian spots open, so Uriel hired me as your new field agent. I start next week.”

It brought a smile to Kathryn's face at least. “Oh... that's great!”

Kurt and Renee grimaced, making Kathryn's smile vanish. “Isn't it?”

“Well... except for the part about me being grossly unqualified, especially with the problems you've all had and Donovan's book screaming 'come get me...' yeah, it's pretty sweet.”

After a pause, Kathryn nodded and forced that smile back. “Well, at least you're back home. Troy'll be glad to hear it. He should be back soon.”

Renee sensed the obvious tension. She had heard from Molly how he had said goodbye to Kathryn. Naturally, Renee didn't want to get in their way and stood.

“Why don't I run to the bookstore and pick you up a shirt? You don't want to make the trip like that, do you?”

She sounded far too hasty and Kurt saw through her. “Nah,” he said, just as rushed. “If Troy's back soon, I'll steal something from him.”

“Is he your size?”

“If not, then I'll grab one off Donovan.”

Invoking the notion of Donovan committing an act of charity was desperate enough to make Renee sit. She folded her hands on her lap and continued to watch Kathryn try to hold eye contact with Kurt rather than glance downward at his chest.

“Uh... so where've you been?” Kathryn asked.

Kurt explained his 'internship' in a little more detail. He was sent to the aptly-named Sulphur Mountain during a Zukoni attempt to conquer it and make it an underground mountain base. His job was to assist the MST's agents in gathering intelligence and preventing the demons from doing the same. Besides the valuable experience in that department, the job also led to several battles that hardened his combat skills. Of course, Sulphur Mountain was hardly a hospitable front, hence the mess he was in when he left.

The way Kurt told it, both girls couldn't help but find it incredibly brave and dashing- a heroic war story from some faraway land. Even Kathryn, who didn't normally care for tales from faraway lands, had a change of heart when it became a first person account.

“Wow... so how long are you here for?” she asked, finding that smile easier to generate again.

“I could go today, but after all that I don't feel like driving all the way back tonight. Unfortunately, since school's in session all the rooms are full.” Kurt raised his eyebrows. He knew he wouldn't have to ask out loud.

“Well, you're welcome to crash with us tonight,” Renee answered. “Right Kathryn?”

The big, eager smile on Renee's face made Kathryn uncomfortable. She knew exactly what Renee was trying to accomplish. Problem was, between her own frustrations over the last week and the need for a pick-me-up, plus Kurt reentering her life, going through everything he did, and sitting right there with no shirt on, Kathryn really had to work to fight off the temptation.

Kathryn faced the floor. “I'm not the one to ask.”

Kurt sighed. “Besides, I wouldn't mind getting one more night here. If I am going to be an agent instead of a guardian, I won't be back at Central much. I'll miss the place.” With a sad chuckle, he added, “You know I never did get out to the FUP.”

Renee turned her head, confused. “You mean not even for class?” The chuckle Kurt let out this time straightened her out. “Oh... never got out to uh... I see.” She chuckled a bit herself.

Looking up, Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “Really? All this time you never...?” She caught herself. Discussing it would certainly not help.

“I know,” Kurt replied, wistfully. “Not that I haven't thought about it, but I guess I let too many chances get by.” By now, Kathryn's head was lowered again. He turned to Renee. She glanced at Kathryn, then back to him, all with a big smile on her face. Renee winked once, and that was all Kurt needed.

“Unless you're interested,” Kurt said to Kathryn.

For all Renee's interest in the subject, once a direct offer was on the table, she turned her head and blushed. Kathryn didn't move. She tried poring over the ramifications of his offer and what it would mean if she accepted or declined. She thought about Troy, about her reputation, about whether Kurt was just trying to be someone else for her to be with. Ultimately, the moment won out, because regardless of all those things, the last two weeks left her needing to be with someone, and intentional or not he had stepped up as the preferred candidate.

“What the hell,” she said, more relenting than accepting. He stood, approached her an extended a hand. With a sigh, she took it, and with a raise of his hand he whisked them away.

That left Renee in a silent uproar. “Ohmigod,” she squeaked.


Session Six

Renee was still in shock over the development. Considering the idea of pairing Kathryn and Kurt and even playfully nudging it forward were great fun, but actually watching them hook up (or at least agree in terms to it) was practically scandalous. Besides, for all the excitement, where did it leave her other than alone in the room with smelly furniture? That was hardly fair.

The next peer to return didn't encourage her- Donovan, clutching the briefcase with Grimoire 17 as he had throughout the entire term. Halfway to his room, without bothering to acknowledge Renee's presence, he stopped and sniffed the air. His nose led him to the chair. By now, her cleaning spell had worn off and the stains had embedded in the fabric once more.

With just a brief glance at Renee, he sniffed the chair closely, particularly curious about the cushion. Donovan wiped the seat with his finger and eyed the results closely, licking his digit with the tip of his tongue.

Sickened by the show, Renee offered to explain. “Yeah, um... Kurt was in and-”

“Brimstone,” he muttered, curious.

“Yeah, it was really bad five minutes ago.”

“I haven't experienced this particular style of brimstone. As if it was from another world.”

Renee wasn't sure whether to be impressed or annoyed at Donovan's display. She elected to remain silent while he did his thing.

“I must examine this further. Bryce!”

“Sir?” Bryce replied.

“Take this to the lab.”

Bryce recoiled at the sight and smell of the chair, but swung his crystal around. The chair vanished. Before Renee could worry too much about it, she saw it reappear in Donovan's room. He and his minion entered 'the lab' and swung the door shut.

“Please clean it when you're done!” she shouted, doubting that Donovan heard it, and certain he wouldn't obey. For a moment, she was tempted to join him in analyzing the residuals Kurt had left. She never admitted it, but she was curious about the foreign land he had been to, and would have made for a nice bonding moment with Donovan that didn't involve wyverns or hodags.

Wait, why was she interested in bonding moments with Donovan? No one else was. In fact, now that Renee thought about it, she was the only one who honored Donovan's place in the group. Molly didn't seem to care whether or not he did well in class, scolding him only when he did something to directly inconvenience her or make her look bad. Troy, Kathryn and Yuki ignored him whenever they could and left the room when they couldn't.

Renee couldn't fathom shunning Donovan like that, no matter how much he shunned everyone else in return. During school, she had stopped by the dark room a few times to partake in his faux-occult activities, even after her MST education exposed most of them as pure nonsense. She had also invited Donovan to the party for Kurt. Clearly, she had an interest in making sure Donovan was included in the group. But with no one else sharing that interest, she questioned her motives for doing so. Could it possibly be that she had an interest in him?

'Hell no,' she told herself. The very thought was just a trick of the moment. Besides, given the way Molly reacted when Renee went out with Troy, even considering Donovan in that context was a bad idea.

Speaking of Troy, he was the next to arrive, and looking for a place to sit down. Specifically, he was looking for the mysteriously absent chair.

“It's out for cleaning,” Renee explained.

“Was it Donovan or Yuki?” Troy had the same reaction as Kathryn.

“Kurt, actually,” she said with a smile.

“He was here?” Troy eagerly began to sit down on the couch, but caught himself and looked over Renee's shoulder.

“Molly's gone.” Assured, Troy sat down as Renee explained Kurt's new post.

Naturally, Troy was as excited as Kathryn. All the deeper ramifications of Kurt's position only seemed to affect him and Molly. To Troy, it was a friend and mentor returned, and a field agent that the group could actually get along with.

“So where'd he go?” he asked.

“Oh, uh...” Renee chuckled uncontrollably. “Kurt and Kathryn went to, uh... celebrate. In the FUP.”

“Why would... oh, you mean?” Biting down on her lips to contain her smile, Renee nodded. Troy huffed. “I see.”

“Yeah, it was pretty crazy. Hormones flying all over. I don't even think they took a... um...” Renee's mouth was moving faster than her brain, which realized that she didn't want to bring the subject up. Eventually, she blurted, “Protection.”

Troy was looking away and shook his head. “Doesn't matter, Kathryn's on the p...” He too caught himself, and turned to Renee nervously. They both looked away immediately.

“I hope that doesn't bother you too much,” she stammered.

“I usually try not to think about it.”

With a nod, Renee replied, “I can see why.” Now that she was part of the whole thing, she was as uncomfortable as Troy.

In the ensuing silence, Troy thought about it anyway. He came to the conclusion that it wasn't his decision. Whether he approved or not, they were going to do whatever they needed to do. When not in Troy's presence, he had nothing to do with it. Now if Kurt or Kathryn somehow made Troy uncomfortable while he was around, then he'd just have to let them have it. Until then, he was putting it out of his mind.

“Guess I don't really have any right to stop them,” he said, trying to convince himself more than Renee. “Not my call anyway.”

Renee smiled, happy that his resolution eased the tension and let her face him again. “Yep. And you never know, maybe they'll work out.”

Troy raised his eyebrows; he had never thought of that. “Yeah. Stranger things have happened.”

“So yeah. Try not to worry about it. Be happy for them.” She could tell he was coming around; he nodded, mouth curling into a smile. This was the side of Troy she liked- genuinely optimistic, but not stupidly so. He wasn't going to be happy about Kurt and Kathryn's hookup until he could justify accepting it.

“You know, it's nice we can talk like this now,” Renee said, inching closer to him as she inched away from the topic.

Troy chuckled. “Yeah. Feels weird not to have Molly looking over us.”

“Yep. Seems like you've grown up a bit since last year too.”

“Yeah, well... lot of things are different now.” His smile remained, growing into something more boastful.

“You just keep it up.” The words came out slowly, and seemed to Renee to be more profound than they actually were. This was still the same Troy that had evaded her defenses once. Only now, whether by Kathryn, Molly or the MST, he seemed to be more confident. As little as she had gotten to talk to him over the last fifteen months, she could see that he was on the right track.

What in all that compelled her to give him a quick hug, she wasn't sure. But she did, and he certainly did nothing to repel it. It did catch him off guard, however.

Moments after she pulled back, he said, “I, uh, suppose I should get to some homework. Talk to you later.” Troy skittishly stood up and went into his room. Obviously, she still had some effect on him.

Renee liked seeing that from him as much as any degree of spirit or self-confidence.





Previous Chapter

Next Chapter