Chapter 3: Reawakening
Mike watched the Elder leave Scott’s rooms and saw the smirk on his face, then a moment later Scott shut the door and Mike heard the door lock. He wondered what had just happened. He had seen the Elder sneak in and could have stopped it, but it would teach Scott a valuable lesson about locking his door around the Elder, who technically followed Tarragon law but pushed it to the limit. He never outright broke the law, but if he found a way to bend it, he would. And he had centuries of practice bending the law.
Mike considered going and checking on Scott, or on Derek, who was clearly in need of help after the last council meeting when his altered condition was clear to anyone who had seen one of Ashton’s pets before – or been one – but instead Mike was curious about the new student, TK. Scott could handle Derek, he decided. Mike wanted to reach TK before the Elder sank his teeth into the poor child.
He knocked on the student’s door and TK opened it. Mike introduced himself and TK’s eyes went vague as he no doubt asked his dragon for more information. Mike braced himself for the reaction everyone gave when they found out who he was and what his story was. Instead, TK just smiled and invited him inside. Maybe his dragon didn’t know who Mike was, or hadn’t told TK. It was a small blessing, either way, because Mike was starting to hate feeling like a piece of fragile china about to fall from the highest shelf.
At first it had been nice. His lover Kale had been slaughtered next to him and he had nearly died at his other lover Ashton’s hands, and then Ashton had been killed in front of him. Kale’s dragon too had been butchered by Ashton’s dragon. It was a horrific event that he still had nightmares about, waking up shouting for help and covered in sweat until the nurse who still lived with him calmed him and gave him tea that soothed his fears and brought him back to reality.
Even in his waking life the smallest things could trigger his memories. Sometimes just seeing dragons in the sky was enough to remind him of the day the dragons had gone to war and he and Kale had been isolated, hunted, and then Kale had been murdered. So he didn’t mind people being gentle with him, but he knew he wasn’t going to recover if everyone treated him like he was going to break at all times. Even the Elder was kind to him, and the Elder was not a kind man. But the Elder always made exceptions for him, allowing him to say things that he would never allow anyone else to say and treating him with a respect that he gave no one else.
But still, it was going to be refreshing talking to someone who either didn’t know, or at least wasn’t going to make a big deal about it. Talking to TK was going to be nice, he hoped. He just hoped the boy was good, and not the type who would have fallen into Ashton’s camp when Ashton was still alive. He supposed that meant falling into the Elder’s camp now, though the Elder hadn’t managed to capture the support of Ashton’s followers yet, he didn’t think. He didn’t know how Derek’s altered state changed things. They needed to get Derek back to reality, and fast, to prevent that from happening.
“So tell me about your dragon,” Mike said with a smile, knowing that this was the easiest way to get students to open up.
He had stopped teaching since the incident but his teacher’s instincts were still intact and he had requested to teach the first year students in the fall in Spokane. So far, no one had voiced any concerns or complaints, and he was looking forward to getting his life back together after months in a nebulous realm of nothingness. It was a reawakening of sorts.
TK’s chest swelled with pride and he began telling Mike all about his dragon, Devon, who was one of the most unusual dragons they had ever had. Already twice his expected size, Devon was rapidly developing yet Devon assured them that he would still live the full length of TK’s life, which suggested that dragons, without humans, would live far, far longer than anyone had ever suspected. However, dragons couldn’t live without a human bond, so there was no way to test this. Devon would easily be ready to start with the sophomores, if not the juniors or seniors, but his control was another matter.
He would be learning to fire at an age where most dragons were still working on flying. While his brain would be mature enough for that, the bond between partners might not be and it would be a dangerous time for everyone. Devon would have to be quarantined, which he said he understood. TK looked a little disappointed, but Mike assured him that it was no reflection on him or Devon, just a necessary precaution that they took with nearly half of all dragons. It would not be permanent, and no one would remember it once they were out. Mike didn’t think they’d be in long, though. Devon seemed quite mature, as did TK, and the bond between them was very strong.
But Mike noticed that TK mentioned Jamie several times during his discussion of the dragon, and that confirmed his suspicion, and the suspicion that many of the council members probably had. The dragons had been unhappy with Jamie lately for paying attention to someone without a dragon, and it had to be this boy who had just gotten a dragon. Whether the dragons would now be happy with Jamie since the boy had a dragon now remained to be seen, but it was clear that TK was taken with Jamie, and that had to be causing problems with Scott. In fact, Mike suspected that was the entire reason TK was in Spokane. After all, Jamie would never otherwise place a potentially valuable student like TK into the Elder’s hands unless he threatened something far more valuable, like his relationship with Scott.
After TK’s subtle mentioning of Jamie when talking about the dragon, Mike decided to dive straight into the subjects he came here to talk about. TK seemed relaxed and calm, and he knew that Mike no longer appeared to be a stranger but someone who cared about his dragon and was therefore a friend, so Mike could broach the more delicate subjects.
“What have you been told about the Queen’s mate here?” he asked, deciding to start by seeing if Jamie had warned him at all. Jamie would be a fool not to, especially if Jamie and TK had a relationship, but perhaps Jamie didn’t want to frighten the boy.
TK’s face stormed over, however, and Mike knew he didn’t need to worry.
“I know he’s no good. He causes Jamie a lot of stress.”
Mike nodded. “Be careful who you tell that to. Many people here may be friends of the Elder, you never know.”
TK blushed. “But not you?”
“No,” Mike said bluntly. “You can ask your dragon. You can always ask your dragon, but sometimes your dragon won’t know exactly. Be careful around people if your dragon can’t read their intentions.”
“Thanks for the tip,” TK muttered, his eyes going vague for a second while he talked to his dragon.
“Be careful around him and don’t be rude or mean to him,” Mike continued. “You have to live on his campus and he’ll be curious about you. Be as friendly as you can be, but don’t accept anything from him and don’t make any promises to him. He can offer you a lot, and sometimes he can even deliver, but the cost is higher than you can possibly understand and he will never tell you the true cost.”
TK paled and nodded. Mike leaned forward.
“For example, he might tell you that he could teach you how to make Jamie yours. He might even say that he wouldn’t want anything in return. Would you be able to refuse that?”
“Uh,” TK stuttered, looking around the room as if for inspiration or an answer. But none was to be found. Still, Mike knew that as soon as the Elder found out that TK wanted Jamie, this was exactly what the man would offer. He needed to know that TK could refuse before he left tonight, or else TK would fall into the Elder’s hands before he even had a chance to live a free life here on this campus.
“What could possibly be wrong with that?” TK finally asked. “Especially if he asks nothing in return?”
Mike inwardly groaned. The boy just didn’t see how evil the Elder was, and how twisted.
“The things he would teach you to do to Jamie would destroy the Jamie that you know and love. Jamie would be yours, but he wouldn’t be Jamie anymore. I’m sure you saw how upset Scott was when he saw Derek today. It’s because Derek is different, changed slightly. He’s not the same person because the Elder changed him. You don’t want that to happen to Jamie, but the Elder does. If the Elder can break Jamie, then there’s no one with the authority to stand up to his demands and he can do whatever he wants. That’s his goal: to break Jamie. You don’t want to be his tool in doing so.”
TK swallowed hard. “Do you think I stand a chance with Jamie if I don’t side with the Elder?”
“With your dragon?” Mike asked with a laugh. “You’ll be bigger than Narné in a year or two, and able to win the mating flight before long. If you keep Jamie’s interest and stay on his side in this conflict, not siding with the Elder, I think your dragon – and you – easily have a chance to win the mating flight.”
Which was probably making Scott sweat, Mike thought. Scott had been in control of the situation when TK didn’t have a dragon but now that he did, and especially a dragon that grew so quickly, Scott would have to face his opponent sooner rather than later during a mating flight. Still, it was meant to be. Jamie would have to choose, and the Queen’s mate might change. Mates were never intended to stay the same for life, after all, though he had read in the ancient histories that it had happened.
TK was still thinking, and finally he nodded. Mike turned his attention back to the boy.
“Going with the Elder might get me Jamie in the short term, but it would destroy Jamie,” TK said. “I’m in this for the long haul. I want to win Jamie the old-fashioned way. I want people to recognize my win. If the Elder asks if I want help, I’ll politely decline.”
Mike let out a sigh he didn’t know he’d been holding and smiled. The boy was on their side against the Elder. He was so glad he had managed to get here before the Elder. He hadn’t realized how borderline TK’s loyalties were, but he believed he had pushed TK onto Jamie’s side.
“Thank you, TK, and Jamie will thank you as well one day.”
“I hope so.”
Their conversation shifted back to dragons for a while, and to the classes in the fall once TK realized that Mike was a teacher, and Mike ended up staying for nearly an hour just talking. It was refreshing and again he felt he was reawakening into the world after a long cold hibernation of mourning. TK never mentioned the incident but he also didn’t go out of his way to avoid it, asking questions about dragons in government and worldwide which brought up memories of Kale. But the memories were a pleasant blur, not the usual sharp sting, and Mike made it through the conversation without tearing up a single time or even feeling particularly upset. TK was a soothing speaker. And before long, Mike looked at his watch and realized it was past time to go, since he wanted to try to talk to Scott before the evening was over, so he said his farewell and left feeling more lighthearted than he had ever since Kale had died.