We finally headed back to our dorms about two hours later, after making absolutely sure there were no screamers left. Derek had eventually been forced to admit that we were indeed immune to infection after Ling got bitten. More like nibbled, really. Of course, that still meant we were the only ones who could safely clear out the zombies.
My speed was useful, to be sure, but the creatures weren’t very smart, so it was hardly necessary. Even Laura and her little soldiers managed to have quite a bit of success. The problem was that there were just so many of them, all working towards a single purpose. At least rats and dumpster-dogs can be expected to fight each other as much as you.
We had reached that annoying point where you’re too tired to stay up and too awake to sleep, so we decided to just head back to our rooms and celebrate our first victory. We’d need to change clothes, though—not because of the blood and sweat, but because one of the infested stores had its fire sprinklers running, so we were all soaking wet. Clean, though. Small favors.
“Laura, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Ling began. “What’s with that ring? You engaged or something?”
Laura’s hand went to the engagement ring hanging on the short chain around her neck. She paused a moment before answering. “No…this belonged to my mother.” She didn’t say more.
Ling looked like she was going to question further, but Derek cut her off. “Her mother died shortly after she was born.”
“Ah,” Ling said quietly as we entered our building. “Sorry I brought it up.”
We entered the elevator in awkward silence, headed for the ninth floor. We didn’t bother stopping at Laura’s room; she wasn’t wet, and hadn’t done anything physically strenuous, so she didn’t need a change of clothes.
Ling and I went into our room quickly and changed without comment. We were still a bit damp, but not so much that it soaked through. When we came out, Derek and Laura were still standing outside.
“I can’t find my keys,” he muttered. With his clothes soaked, he could barely get into the pockets. Eventually he managed it though, and unlocked his door swiftly, probably looking forward to getting out of his clothes.
But when he went inside, he yelped in surprise, and the rest of us piled in to see what was wrong.
Well, the good news was that we found Adam.
The bad news was that he was in the middle of having sex with Lily.
She shrieked and scrambled for the sheets, leaving Adam only barely covered. He had the good grace to look embarrassed, and mostly tried to shield Lily from view. I glanced at Derek to see how he was taking this, but he had already covered his eyes with one hand.
He held out his other arm. “Akane. A change of clothes and a towel, please.”
I hurried to obey, grabbing some jeans and a t-shirt (and boxers) from his closet, then draping it on his outstretched arm with a towel. He turned away without a word, heading for the bathroom. I assumed to get changed.
Laura didn’t seem all that perturbed by the scene, though I did notice she kept her eyes away from the pair, and set about collecting their clothes from the floor. It didn’t take long, and once she handed them off she left the room, dragging us with her and closing the door behind her.
We only had to wait a few minutes before Derek came back; by that time, judging by the sounds coming from the room, the two lovebirds had gotten changed. Derek nodded at me, and I knocked. The door opened quickly to show a disheveled—but clothed—Adam.
“Right. Sorry about that. I guess I expected you to be gone longer.” He gestured for us to come in.
Lily was dressed and sitting primly on the right bed; Ling and I quickly took the left one, and Laura followed close behind. Derek sat at his desk, while Adam carefully slid next to Lily.
“So it seems you two are getting along.” Laura’s voice didn’t hold any apparent sarcasm, but the deadpan expression on her face told another story.
Lily blushed deeply. “Well, you see…”
“I like your tattoos,” Ling put in quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.
Lily turned completely scarlet, and the marks Ling had noted disappeared back into her skin. I had heard about that kind of thing before. Sometimes in the throes of…passion people can lose control of their AT tattoo toy, resulting in fascinating patterns appearing. I had never actually seen it, though.
“So what were you all doing out so early?” Adam asked in an obvious bid to change the subject. “Out at a club or something?”
“Screamers,” Derek replied without preamble. He wasn’t mad about the two lovebirds, but he was pointedly ignoring it anyway. Derek…is not good with romance, so he just pretends it doesn’t exist. “About a hundred, north of the campus. Right outside the wall.”
Adam swore vehemently. “I should have been there, but I was…” he glanced at Lily. “…busy. Everyone alright?”
“We captured one,” Laura reported. “Killed the rest. Ask MC for a full report later, but there’s not much more to say.”
Adam nodded, but Lily frowned.
“Wait…does that mean you’re the Paladins Butler was talking about?”
I winced. Oops.
Adam looked like he was going to come up with something stupid, but Derek spoke first.
“Yes. We are. Although I’m going to have to ask you to keep that to yourself.”
She mimed zipping her mouth shut. “My lips are sealed.” She grinned. “Although…I would like to see those specs the Big Boss mentioned.” She looked at each of us in turn. “What can you guys do? Shoot fire?”
“Derek can make shields,” Adam admitted. “Ling can control rock, Akane is a speedster, and Laura…”
“Laura can detect lies,” the girl in question finished. “Hardly impressive.”
Lily frowned at Adam. “What about you?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. No powers whatsoever.”
She clicked her tongue. “In addition to being clay? That sucks.”
Adam blinked. “Uh…”
“Lutum informis,” Derek supplied. “’Clay’ is the more common term.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ling supplied happily. “Most people only have a couple cosmos. It’s not like you were actually planning to join one of the gangs.”
He frowned. “I was more worried about the buffs, actually.”
“Ah…” her face fell. “Right. Of course.” Then her smile was back, and she turned to Lily. “So how was he?”
Adam blanched, and Laura choked, covering it up with a cough. Derek nearly jumped out of his seat. “Ling, that is hardly—”
But Lily just shrugged. “Not bad.” But she grinned. “Really good considering he didn’t have any practice.”
Adam looked horrified. “You…I…you knew?”
Ling leaned forward excitedly. “I need details.”
“No, you don’t,” Derek cut in before Lily could answer. “That’s between Lily and Adam. Even—” he glared at Lily. “—even if one of them feels otherwise.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to get so bent out of shape.”
He just frowned. “I’m just hoping to build up good will. Hopefully this will keep you bunch from asking too many questions if you catch me in a similar situation.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Virgin?”
Derek shrugged. I knew it was true, of course, and I doubt he cared if anyone else did too.
But Lily snorted. “Screw virgin, this moron hasn’t so much as kissed a girl.”
I nearly jumped off the bed. “What?” That wasn’t…I thought…
She smiled at me coyly. “Oh, you didn’t know? Yeah, I heard it from the Princess of Killing Sparrow last year. Apparently when you two got separated, that’s how he drove her off.”
I blushed, remembering the event in question, but didn’t say anything else. What could I say? But if it was true—and Derek certainly didn’t seem to be denying it—then that meant…
I stared at Ling, who was grinning like a moron. “What do you mean, ‘dibs?’”
“Exactly what it sounds like. I call dibs on his first kiss.”
“But…” I couldn’t find the words. “You can’t!”
Her grin widened. “Why not? He’s the hero, and he doesn’t have a love interest. That’s a crime, I say, and one I will not allow to continue.”
“But…I’ve known him longer!”
She cocked her head quizzically. “So?”
I made up my mind. “So I get dibs!”
“Girls…” Derek said with a sigh. “Be nice.” I didn’t even have to look at him; I knew he wasn’t taking this seriously.
Well, I was.
“There’s no reason for you to get it,” I pointed out. “You met him yesterday.”
She held her hands to her chest. “But it was love at first sight!”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Well, maybe not quite, but he did save my life.”
I knew from experience what kind of effect that could have. She seemed to be serious, but I couldn’t tell.
“Girls, seriously,” Derek said in a frustrated tone. “Don’t joke about this kind of thing.”
I glanced at him, but mostly I saw Lily rolling her eyes.
That’s right. Lily was here. And so was Ling and Laura and Adam. I was having a heated discussion about kissing Derek in front of four other people.
My face felt so hot I was sure it had already caught fire.
“Silence implies consent!” Ling crowed. She tried to jump around me, heading for Derek, but I knocked her back onto the bed.
What else could I do? I couldn’t actually…could I?
“Oh, screw this.”
I looked just in time to see Laura grab Derek and shove her tongue down his throat.
No one spoke for nearly a minute—unless you count Derek’s desperate attempts to pry Laura off his face as talking. I couldn’t breathe. I think my heart skipped at least six beats.
Finally, after an eternity, she let him go, her lips trailing saliva. He gasped for air, a truly shocked expression on his face, while Laura just wiped her mouth, as though she hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary.
“Anyone got mouthwash?” she asked nonchalantly. “I’ve got a weird taste in my mouth.”
No one spoke. After a moment, Lily managed to get out “There should be some in the bathroom.” Laura nodded and headed in that direction, closing the door behind her.
The room was quiet again. I could hear early morning birds outside the window—which, I noticed, the lovers had opened at some point to air out the room. Some intelligent portion of my brain thanked them for that.
“Well,” Adam muttered, breaking the silence. “At least there will be no more fighting over that.”
Ling immediately brightened. “Dibs on—”
She glared at me. “I was just gonna—”
I gripped my sword meaningfully.
She pouted sullenly. “Fine.”
A few more minutes of sullen silence.
“She’s taking a while,” I whispered, meaning Laura. Honestly, I just wanted to get out of the room. I stood to go.
“Leave the sword,” Adam advised. I glared at him, but he didn’t back down, so I complied. Like that would stop me if I really wanted her dead. Which I didn’t.
The girl’s bathroom was all the way at the other end of the hall, which was annoying. Laura was there, just standing at the sink next to the mouthwash dispenser. These really were well-kept bathrooms. Who knew how long that would last when students actually came in, but still.
“Laura?” I asked gently. Something about her posture made me worried.
She jumped. “Yes, what is it?”
I kept my voice from quavering with an effort of will; I still wasn’t used to her. “We were just wondering what was taking you so long.”
“Ah, right.” She brushed back her hair and sighed. “I’m just tired. It’s been a long day and it hasn’t even started yet.”
I smiled sadly. “That’s the truth.”
She walked past me, out of the bathroom. “Anyway, we should get back. We really should give Adam a real briefing, and maybe work out some strategies.”
I hadn’t even thought about that. I nodded, then glanced back to the sink she had left and frowned.
She shouldn’t leave stuff lying around like that. It piles up, and soon the janitors can’t deal with it. I took the liberty of throwing out the cup, still full of mouthwash, for her. Seriously, why is it that the smart ones are always scatterbrained?
Behind the Scenes (scene 13)
I had more fun writing this one than I should have.