The top floor of the Carrack building belonged to the Vailles. During the time their parents had still been with them, the place had been perfect for the five of them. It would have been big enough to accommodate the little sister their mother had been hoping to provide. Now that Carson and Arianna were gone, even though it had been years, Gabriel always felt as if the three of them were rattling about in the emptiness. There was no question of leaving, or taking a smaller place on one of the lower floors. This was their home.
Roman had ambushed him in the elevator and thrust his fingers up beneath Gabriel's shirt and intimated with amorous motion that he'd be climbing into bed with him later that night. As the doors opened to the elevator's quiet 'ping' Gabriel ran a hand through his hair, undid his crooked tie completely, and hoped that the suck-marks weren't too visible. Cedric was still young and Gabriel not so far removed that explaining their incestuous relationship wouldn't be acutely embarrassing.
"Well?" Roman said, running a hand through his hair as he strode beside Gabriel toward the front door.
Gabriel fumbled with his keys. "What?" He felt disjointed, as if he'd dropped the thread of a conversation.
"Why were you so late?" Roman pressed. "You never did say."
"I was working," Gabriel said mildly, and his brow creased. Hadn't he been clear? "Then Ms. Carson from Orion stopped by to deliver something."
"Ha! That's all you needed to say," Roman said tartly. "Orion came calling and you lost yourself, no doubt, in the fascination of their latest bit of demonic lore."
Gabriel stopped with his key in the door, turning to fix Roman with a weary eye. "Do we need to go through that again?"
Roman leaned up against him, one long arm going over his shoulder. He nuzzled aside the hair at Gabriel's nape and licked delicately at his skin. "No. You're right." He peeled himself away as Gabriel began to open the door, nudging his younger brother in the ribs.
"Relax, I'm this affectionate to everyone," Roman whispered at his back.
That much was true. Gabriel kicked off his shoes at the entranceway and stepped up from the shallow depression of the foyer, gliding down the long bare-wood hallway on stockinged feet. "Cedric?" he called out.
The pale head of his little brother peered from around the corner of the kitchen, the first arch to the left.
"Good, you're home," Cedric said. "I was just about to begin making dinner." His voice was very soft but it carried; his diction was precise, as it had been when he had begun speaking in full sentences at nearly four years old.
"Sorry we left you for so long, Cede," Roman said, brushing past him and laying a hand on Cedric's silvery-lavender hair. "It's Gabe's fault, as usual."
"It's CEDRIC," Cedric corrected in outrage as Gabriel said at once, "My name is GABRIEL."
"Yeah, yeah." Roman waved a big-boned hand over his shoulder, carrying his things up the hallway to dump across his bed.
Gabriel lingered in the hallway, looking down at Cedric for a moment longer. "How was your first day?"
Enormous pale green eyes thickly fringed in black lashes stared up at him, then disappeared as the lids veiled them and Cedric looked down. "Fine. I'm in Class One-D. The teacher is nice, he graduated from the university. A senior walked me home."
Gabriel's brow arched. He knew from experience this concise explanation was the best he'd get. "A senior boy?" He looked his brother over. He was young, and didn't quite look his age; now he was in junior high. To Gabriel he still looked like a little boy. Vaguely, he tried to imagine how a junior high school boy would see him. He'd have to ask Roman. "Was he nice to you?" Now Gabriel was faintly worried. He wasn't aware so much out of personal experience as Roman's experiences in junior high -- that was when, he remembered to his chagrin and embarrassment, Roman had first begun his feverishly promiscuous activities.
Cedric frowned, appearing to think this over. He was a very bright boy, as evidenced by his rapid progress through school, but tended to mull over his responses before speaking. "He's tall," Cedric said unhelpfully. He thought some more. "He doesn't talk much. If he weren't a senior I would like to know him better."
"So he's a senior. What's stopping you from getting to know him better?" Gabriel asked curiously, aware even as he prompted that he probably shouldn't encourage such a thing. A senior shouldn't rightfully have any business with a cute and tiny boy such as Cedric. Gabriel was aware enough to realize that Cedric was cute, every bit as much as Roman had been at that age, with more gravity and less wickedness.
"The class difference is too great," Cedric replied. "Unless we're in some sort of club activity together, there's no reason for a senior to associate with a first-year. It's just not done."
"Ah." Gabriel vaguely remembered that time. He had had friends, few though they were, and had never troubled himself with class differences. Then again, as Roman frequently told him, Gabriel wasn't normal; he ignored standards, he didn't uphold them. "Well, whatever you like." He bent to press a kiss to Cedric's brow, brushing wispy bangs from the boy's eyes.
"Should I start cooking dinner?" Cedric looked up at him steadily. Unlike Roman, he didn't seem the least bit put out that it had taken them so long to come home, so long he'd been thinking about starting dinner himself.
"No, sweetheart, Roman ordered pizza for dinner."
Cedric made a little face.
Gabriel smiled involuntarily. "He said you shouldn't have to cook tonight. He got the kind you liked, thin crust, light on the cheese and tomato, plenty of olives."
Roman's voice floated up the hallway. "No fucking pineapple!"
Cedric giggled as Gabriel left him.
Gabriel dropped his briefcase off in his study before going to his room to strip down and dress more casually. The pizza would be arriving soon. They would have dinner. Roman would quiz Cedric about his day with limited success. Gabriel looked around his room, decorated in a spare fashion. Cream carpet, soft underfoot like crushed velvet; black-stained wooden furniture -- the bureau, nightstand, and big huge frame of the bed. The western wall of his bedroom was glass set with a sliding door that opened onto a wide terrace. Gabriel had redecorated the large room completely after his parents' death and no trace of their former decor remained. Pushed in one corner was a dark walnut reading desk, an antique; pushed in another corner was a low cream-colored couch with a black lamp standing beside it. The whiteness of the walls was interspersed with replica prints spaced out along each side of the room, mostly Egyptian art, but one large Japanese print hung above his bed.
A fine screen painted over like an Egyptian relief stood before the closet, fencing off a corner of the room. Gabriel slipped behind it, shedding his clothes and stuffing them in the dark brown wicker hamper. He was turned toward the corner, pulling on a pair of loose linen pants when he felt a moist touch brush over his spine.
"Roman," he hissed, slipping the waistband up over his buttocks.
Strong arms circled him and Roman pressed a cool cheek to his shoulder. "Don't be stuffy, lover."
Gabriel sighed and shook his head. When Roman was in the mood, he let nothing deter him. Sometimes his brother's single-minded intensity surpassed his own brand of focused drift.
"We can't," Gabriel began. "The pizza."
"Oh, I don't want to fuck right now," Roman purred against his skin. "I know we have to wait until later, until Cede's asleep--"
"The boy's name is Cedric, you flippant--" Gabriel growled, twisting in his arms. Roman plastered a hot kiss on him, mouthed along his jawline and clutched a handful of buttock. Gabriel kissed back for a moment, bending him back, licking his lips open and delving inside to touch tongues. He pushed Roman away, wiping at the corner of his mouth with his thumb.
"You're not going back to campus tonight, are you?" Roman stepped back, folding his arms across his slender chest. He looked lovely and wicked as he licked his lips, tilting his head to eye Gabriel mischievously.
Gabriel contemplated the work that waited for him in his office, the work to be done preparing the book for reading, then the translations to come. He focused again on Roman's green eyes as his brother touched the side of his face. "No, not tonight," he said, a part of his mind still abstractly thinking of the work.
Roman frowned at him. "Stay with me tonight," he admonished. "And Cedric."
"I am, I'm here."
He remembered another night eight years gone after word of their parents had reached them. Gabriel, still floundering under the weight of unexpected familial duty when before he had been allowed to be the absent-minded brother pursuing his master's degree, had withdrawn into academia to smother his grief. Cedric had been barely old enough to understand, but he had just learned to read and had thrown himself into that rather than face a loss he could barely comprehend. Roman had always lived on the edge of his skin and raged at this reticence. He had startled Gabriel late one night by stealing into the study some weeks after news of their parents' deaths. I want you to see me. I want you to stay here, with me. Don't go away inside yourself. Stay with me. Gabriel remembered how Roman had climbed into his lap, throwing his arms around his neck, bearing down on him with the warmth and demand of his physical presence. Please, I can't bear to be alone. I need you.
They had always been close despite the eleven years between them because Roman had never allowed it to be otherwise. When Roman's sexual awakening had come, he hadn't allowed Gabriel to withdraw from that, either.
Gabriel kissed the corner of his brother's mouth then took his shoulders in both hands, turning him and steering him from behind the screen. He blinked as he remembered a fragment of his conversation with Cedric. "Roman, is our little brother sexually attractive?"
Roman hauled up short, causing Gabriel to bump his chin painfully on the crown of his brother's head.
"Ow, fucking ow!" Roman complained, slewing around. "Darling, I never figured you for the type to perv over our tender little Cedric."
"I am not!" Gabriel said indignantly, and realized by the shake of Roman's shoulders and the slow crimsoning of his face that he was being laughed at. "Come on, now."
"Why are you asking?" Roman scraped flyaway hair from his face and straightened.
Gabriel continued to stare at him disapprovingly. "He mentioned that a senior walked him home."
"Ooh, now that is cause for alarm." A calculating look crossed his perfect features. "I should skip last period tomorrow and tail him."
"You will not begin cutting class on your second day of school," Gabriel said repressively. "Or I will cut you off."
Roman made a moue of dismay. It was hardly the threat it could be, seeing that Roman got it wherever he wanted and with his photographer boyfriend besides, but he had always been an affectionate child, craving the touch of others, and as he grew his tactile needs had sharpened, become more specific. Being deprived of anyone he wanted made him testy and restless. "All right, all right."
Gabriel stroked hair over his brother's left ear. "Is he?"
"Is he a delectable young morsel just waiting to be plucked?" Roman's lips curved. "Well, you know I don't go for younger boys."
"You're young yourself," Gabriel told him, lips twitching.
Roman shrugged off his hand irritably. "Yes, Cedric is sexually attractive," he said. His look was considering. "In fact, I can see how a junior high third-year would find him very appealing. He's prettier than most girls, you know."
Gabriel chuckled. Roman wasn't exactly slight, but neither would he ever be a big man. He was more beautiful than any girl of his age group Gabriel had ever seen.
Roman elbowed him. "You should have 'the talk' with Cedric," he said as they entered the hallway together.
"Wh-what? What do you mean?" Gabriel sputtered. There had never been the need for any sort of talk with Roman. Roman had done the talking himself. And accompanied that with demonstrative gestures besides.
His brother waggled suggestive eyebrows at him. "Or give him a book detailing the facts of life, if you prefer."
"I -- I hardly think that's necessary!" Gabriel exclaimed. "He's only--"
Roman laughed, hooking an arm through his. "Darling, if seniors are walking him home, he'd better hear it from one of us fast, or he's gonna get it before you can say twinkling arse-cheeks." He said this in a low voice not meant to carry.
Gabriel began to stutter a reply, interrupted by the ring of the doorbell.
Cedric scampered past on bare feet, and Gabriel noticed now that his little brother was still wearing his uniform shorts, and they were terribly short -- they bared altogether far too much of his creamy-pale thighs. "Hurry up, Gabriel-oniisan!" he called. Cedric was a student of languages like his elder brother, and Japanese was his current favorite. He often said it was far more precise and logical with personal pronouns and its sliding-scale respectfulness of address. This had led to his calling Gabriel by one of the more respectful Japanese forms of "brother" and Roman, one of the more casual forms. "I don't have money for the pizza."
"I'll get it." Roman brushed past him, extracting a wad of bills from ancient-gods-knew-where and relieving the man at the door of his pizza, tipping him handsomely.
They settled in the kitchen nook, an oval table beside a wide, tall bay window. The three of them rarely ate in the richly-furnished dining room, a warm but formal room. Gabriel had replaced the large square table -- where the five of them had sat, while their parents were still alive -- with this smaller, more intimate seating arrangement. There were things even he had become acutely aware of. The hole their parents had left in their lives was one of them.
"So, Cedric," Roman mumbled around a mouthful of pizza, "how was your first day?"
Cedric shrugged expansively, hands looking small against the large slice he had picked up. "It wasn't bad," he said. His eyes slid from one brother to the other.
Gabriel thought with a frown of the senior walking his little brother home -- he's tall, Cedric had said -- and the things Roman had implied he should take in hand. He averted his eyes and tried to remember if he had a class or other commitments around that time of day. He'd forbidden Roman to do so, but he could cross campus to follow Cedric home discreetly himself.
"You like your classes? Your teachers? Any likely kids who could be friends?" Roman prodded.
Cedric endured the questioning, giving terse answers except when it came back to the subject of teachers. He warmed on the topic of Alistair McCormack, his new homeroom teacher who also dispensed English and history to their class. He described the new teacher in detail, the periods he'd taught, things he'd covered, and the way he had handled the class on his first day. Roman's eyes met Gabriel's at several points of the discourse, mischievous but transmitting a clear message even he couldn't fail to miss. The boy is obviously bent in our direction, has his first crush, and it's time to talk about certain facts before they're thrust upon him.
"What about the senior?" Roman prompted, when Cedric fell silent.
Big green eyes turned reproachfully in Gabriel's direction, as if the boy had shared a secret with him that he'd expected not to be passed on. Gabriel grimaced.
"Akito Rukawa," Cedric divulged the name reluctantly. "He, um, walked me home. He just happened by and said it was on the way."
"Hmm." Roman was frowning, looking Cedric over with keen eyes. He appeared dissatisfied with this story. "That's it?"
Cedric dropped his eyes to the pizza on his plate. "I fell by the canal," he said after a pause. "Rukawa helped me up."
Roman was still frowning. "He's Japanese," he noted. "Maybe you can get him to speak Japanese with you, otouto." Roman flaunted his own limited knowledge of the language. Once the boy had begun calling them by foreign honorifics, Roman had learned what Gabriel mentally termed "retaliatory foreign language skills." That word meant little brother, exchanged for Cedric calling him "aniki."
"He doesn't have an accent," Cedric said calmly. "But he doesn't talk much. At any rate I don't expect a senior to pay much attention to me, so I probably won't get the chance to ask."
Roman arched brows at Gabriel.
This was definitely not a line of conversation Gabriel wanted to pursue, not the way Roman would have it. "Finish your pizza," he ordered his brothers. "There's cake for after. I got it to celebrate your first day back to school, for both of you."
Nevertheless the idea had been put in his head. It gave Gabriel the cold shivers. How was he supposed to have a man-to-man talk about sex with his little brother? Worse, how to work gay sex into the conversation?
This was so Roman's territory. Still, he knew he couldn't trust his brother with such delicacy.
"It was fabulous, Damon had the concepts set up beforehand, he was working closely with the ad exec in charge of the initial campaign," Roman chattered, settling his cell phone closely to his ear. "I think I'm going to like working with Psyblade. Everyone's so professional, so solicitous. And of course, the other models are totally hot. Sports company, you know."
"Mm," the voice of his classmate Derrek murmured in his ear. "You've got all the luck, Roman. Fucked any of the hot models yet?"
Roman smirked. "One," he murmured, reaching to caress an idle hand down the front of his silk pajama bottoms, feeling himself through the crotch of his pants. He roused up hard instantly at his own touch, as always. "Mmm, he was so good. Turned me over the sink and did me hard." Derrek wasn't a friend so much as he was a fuck-buddy. With Roman, male classmates were divided into two categories -- fuckable and non-fuckable.
Girls were in twain as well; those who went after him openly, and those who hung back. They all wanted him. He only had use for the few who could be friends.
"You sound so sexy," Derrek said breathlessly. "Are you touching yourself? I'm touching myself right now, thinking about you."
Roman hummed a noncommittal response. He didn't want to jack off over the phone with Derrek when he could go right down the hall and get what he wanted with Gabriel. "You want to make some time tomorrow?"
He could hear the slow intake of breath over the line, and there was a smile in Derrek's voice when he spoke. "After gym class and before lunch?"
"All during lunch, if we want," Roman replied seductively. Derrek was good-looking enough, and seemed inventive enough, that it would be no hardship to be stuck in the same class with him all year. The only problem was in handling him so that he didn't become too attached as some of them had.
"Ah, God..." Derrek's breathing thickened over the line. He could hear in those hitches and pauses the intimation of touch, slow handling and the slip of fingers over ready flesh. "Just thinking about getting you all to myself, the things I'm gonna do to you, slipping your gym shorts off and my hand on your cock--"
The phone beeped in his ear and Roman stopped his idle, very light stroking. "Derrek, hon, I've got another call."
"Shit, Roman, don't do this to me!" Derrek pleaded, and there was a clattering noise on the other end of the line. "Dammit!"
"I've got to go, it might be business," Roman said sweetly. "I'll see you tomorrow, babe."
Derrek was cursing again as Roman thumbed the button that switched his calls over. "Hello?" He swept his hair back and set the little phone against his ear. He swished his legs open and shut, enjoying the cool draft it created between his legs.
"You said to call," the familiar voice drawled in his ear.
"Hmm, and it's only been two hours," Roman said, keeping his tone light and teasing. "I say you can't live without me."
Damon chuckled, the sound low and intimate. "You can say it all you want," the man said. "I'm not saying. How was your little brother's day?"
Roman made a discontented sound. "He's not telling everything," he muttered. "He rarely does, I know, but this feels different. Makes me uneasy. And at the end of the day a senior walked him home and I know he's not telling me everything about that."
"A boy has to have some secrets, the older he gets," Damon told him. "Or are you telling me that Gabriel knew everything about us, back then?"
"Ha! There's that," Roman admitted. He had wanted Damon clear back from the moment he'd first laid eyes on him at thirteen. He had only waited a few years to seduce him because he'd known Damon would have felt even more guilty about it than he had with Roman at fifteen. Now Cedric was approaching that age, the time of firsts. First crush, first kiss, first touch. "I told Gabriel he should talk to him about sex."
An explosive snort. "Did he faint dead away?"
"Be nice," Roman admonished. Honestly, the two were edgy as territorial bulls around one another, or even at the mere mention. He'd never confided one of his most provocative fantasies to either lover -- having Gabriel and Damon in the same bed with him, taking him by turns or sharing him at the same time. There was something he couldn't ask for, even for a birthday gift. "Honestly, I don't think it ever crossed his mind. He never had to tell me anything."
"You're precocious, lover," Damon murmured.
Roman smirked unseen. If only Damon ever knew how precocious, he'd be shocked. "Yes, and I have a feeling Cede will be, too."
"Don't call him that," Damon admonished. "It sounds dirty."
Sigh. "No one ever lets me use diminutives," Roman complained.
"You certainly can't shorten my name."
"Hmmph. So, you want to come pick me up after school tomorrow?" Roman leaned back on his bed, hand drifting down to his semi-hard cock again. It was stirring, thinking of Damon and pushing his lover's shirt up and putting his mouth all over his body, re-learning the most sensitive spots.
"For the four o'clock meeting?"
"Then I can take you out after, for dinner?"
"I'd like that very much," Roman purred. He began to feel himself up, silk rapidly warming between fingers and cock. "Then we can do it in your car."
"The car?" Damon protested mildly.
"Yeah, you've got tinted windows. And we haven't done it there yet."
Damon said, "We'll see." His voice was low and rich, increasing the throb that thrilled in Roman's groin. "That's one of the sexiest things about you, dammit. The lengths you'll go to for a good fuck."
"You aren't shy yourself," Roman replied with a laugh that caught in his throat. It was one of the things he appreciated about Damon; once he'd gotten over angsting for Roman's youth and relative inexperience, Damon had ushered him into all sorts of realms of erotica. Roman was rubbing the hard lump of his cock, so close to sliding his hand inside his pajamas and stroking himself to completion with Damon on the line. No...later, he wanted to do it with Gabriel. "So I'll see you tomorrow."
Damon made a disappointed noise. "You don't want to talk?"
Roman cleared his throat. "It's sad, but I already have homework. Haven't done it yet, of course."
"It's nearly eleven," Damon observed.
"Hence the 'of course.' I love you."
"Love you," Damon responded, and hung up shortly after.
Roman got his breathing under control and thumbed the phone to 'away' status so that calls would go straight to voicemail. It was time to sneak into Gabriel's study again. It was nearly eleven and it was true, his homework wasn't done, and it was going to go undone a while longer.
He crept down the hallway on bare feet, remembering a similar night eight years ago. He had been young and lonely and horribly indignant at being left behind for books. He'd crawled into Gabriel's lap and forced him to see him. Roman's lips twitched in a smile as he remembered another night years after that, when he had forced Gabriel to see him in a different light entirely, kindling a heat between their bodies that had yet to go out.
As he passed Cedric's door he glanced in. His little brother slept with the door thrown wide and the window open, unless it was the dead of winter. Roman felt a little guilty stealing into Cedric's room with half an erection but he had the most chaste of intentions. He eyed his brother for a long moment, standing back from the bed where a shaft of moonlight fell across Cedric, leaching him of what little color he possessed until he was a pretty marble statue of youth and beauty, Eros maybe -- as the Greeks had portrayed him, like a gorgeous child. He thought about what Gabriel had asked him earlier that day and had trouble thinking of Cedric and sex. The boy was younger than Roman had been upon entering junior high, because of his precocity, so it was probably too early for that.
Cedric was exquisite, though. His sweetly triangular face was slack in slumber, the jade green of his large eyes shuttered with silken lids. His eyelashes, longer than a girl's, lay thick and close over his cheeks. He had a small nose and small but shapely lips, the palest coral tint to them in natural light.
Roman bent over him, brushing wispy bangs away from his brother's sleeping eyes. During moments like these he felt enormously protective of Cedric. He considered the way a boy about his own age would look at him, and his fists clenched. Cedric was more than just lovely, he seemed like easy pickings. He wished Gabriel had been more receptive to the thought of him tailing Cedric home. Not tomorrow, of course -- he had work -- but some time soon.
He drew the sheet up over Cedric's slight body and laid a kiss on his cheek. Cedric stirred, turning into his pillow with the faintest of murmurs.
"Sleep sweet, baby," Roman whispered.
Further down the hall Roman sought out the study that was primarily Gabriel's, though Cedric used it for homework or reading when their eldest brother wasn't at home. Roman only studied when he absolutely couldn't avoid it, so the place was of no use to him. There was a skylight above, and moonlight threw dappled shadows onto the carpet, competing with other sources of light. A warm amber lamp burned on the desk. His brother was bent over an open notebook, jotting something down while he murmured aloud.
"...preliminary carbon dating sets the year at 1300 B.C....but that's impossible, there were no records of demon presence at that time-space locus. I would conclude it must had been brought there later if not for the manner in which it was found..."
Roman settled his hands on Gabriel's shoulders. "I've left you to it for two hours, professor. You think you can spare some time for love?"
Gabriel started under his touch, immediately flipping his notebook closed. Roman noted without much surprise that it was some sort of classified Orion report -- probably not a thing Gabriel should be letting out of his office, but then, no one policed the professor's work so long as he produced.
"I've always got time enough for love," Gabriel said quietly, moving in his swivel chair until he faced Roman. He removed his reading classes, folded them and set them on the table, then shook his hair back away from his face, lifting his chin.
Roman gave him a slow smile and bent to press his lips to his brother's, dwelling there longer than a heartbeat. When he was younger, the study chair had been enough for both of them; he could climb into his brother's lap and rock against him as they kissed. He had gotten too big for that now, and leaned his hands on the arms of the chair as Gabriel pushed his slow claim into Roman's mouth.
"Come to bed with me," he whispered against Gabriel's skin, nuzzling his way up his jaw and trailing over wetly for the sensitive cluster of nerves below his ear.
Gabriel's arms went around him and he stood, pressing Roman back in a graceful movement, like the overture of a dance. He was half a head taller, and sometimes Roman wondered if he would ever catch up to his brother. It would be fine if he didn't; he liked the way the larger body of an older lover could dominate him. Damon was even taller than Gabriel.
"Let's go, then." Gabriel threaded fingers into his, and tugged him from the study with eager steps.
It was gratifying that he could cause this kind of reaction in his single-minded brother. Sometimes there was a kind of triumph in him, swelling up his chest in the inside, making him feel he had wings because Gabriel had no other lovers, at least not right now, and Roman was fairly sure Gabriel hadn't had any since before they had begun. There was something in this world that was all his, only his. It wouldn't last forever but it was enough for now.
Cedric Vaille leaned his chin on his hand, looking out the window from the front row seat of Class One-D. It was his second day of junior high and so far the next had not been so bad as the first, but then, so far he hadn't tried to go anywhere alone. Roman had walked him to school that morning because the junior high was on the way to the high school -- he cut through the building and walked through the sports field. He'd seemed enormously pleased about something, but then he usually did. Cedric never felt the need to press his brother for details. Sometimes Roman gave them.
At lunch, Cedric usually situated himself in a corner with a book or bit of homework, or found an unoccupied nook of the school to eat his lunch. Freshmen were supposed to eat in the cafeteria, though, so he'd resigned himself to sitting alone and possibly being harassed by Andy and his cronies. Indeed, he'd even seen them heading over.
Then tall Rukawa had stopped by his table with a laden tray. "Anyone sitting here?" the senior had asked. At Cedric's startled headshake, he had seated himself.
Cedric looked out over the school lawn, smiling and barely aware of it. He hadn't learned much more about the laconic senior than he had yesterday. Rukawa didn't talk much. He did know, now, that Rukawa had recently moved to the city from Seattle, a journey that had taken almost a whole month, and that Rukawa's favorite subject was English but he disliked history because he had trouble with the dates. Cedric had nearly offered, shyly, to teach him the mnemonic system he used, but then wondered if that wouldn't be too forward -- maybe Rukawa just didn't have someone he preferred to sit with more, just yet.
Now they were holding class elections in this, the last period of the day. Everyone else was eyeing the clock. Cedric didn't want to turn around to glance at it, because the last time he had, he'd seen Andy glaring at him. He hadn't even done anything to be worthy of such dislike!
With a sudden feeling of warmth he remembered how Mr. McCormack had beckoned him to his desk just after lunch. "I've thought over your idea," the teacher had told him. "I think it's a good one, I'm going to try it. You hold peer elections, right?"
"Cedric Vaille," Mr. McCormack called out.
Cedric looked up with a startled blink. He had phased out while the handsome teacher was counting ballots. "Sir?"
Mr. McCormack was smiling at him. "You win, Cedric, by popular ballot."
"Oh!" Cedric shot to his feet. There were a couple of girls and a boy in the front row, all looking at him expectantly. One of the girls was smiling, and gave him a little wave. "Thank you! Um, I'll do my best starting tomorrow." Flushing crimson, he returned to his seat. That was the most approaching a speech that he could manage with no notice. Now he wouldn't be able to sit in the back anymore -- especially not starting tomorrow, when he helped Mr. McCormack draw up a seating chart.
He couldn't complain too much, as his mind was already busily anticipating the list of class chores he would be helping with, as class leader. He would keep track of the order for cleaning, for the teacher; gather up tests and distribute materials; help Mr. McCormack with the copying and whatever errands he needed done... He found himself looking forward to it.
After the initial insulating bubble of surprise, Cedric found he was even more pleased that he had won the popular ballot. His classmates knew him enough to think he would do a good job. He bit his lip, and wondered if he was really so anonymous among them as he'd thought. Already the girl next to him, one with long blonde hair and big brown eyes, was whispering congratulations.
"All right, class, for tonight's homework--" A collective groan went through the class and Alistair McCormack merely smiled. "Some more reading, because I expect a lively discussion tomorrow. For those of you who think you can get away without reading, there will be a quiz at the end of the week, featuring questions from both the reading and the discussions."
Mr. McCormack began stenciling out the assignment on the data wall as Cedric's classmates gathered up their things. For Cedric it would be light reading, covering a period of history he was already familiar with. He thought briefly of Rukawa, and wondered if he would be behind if his curriculum was different at his old school. That couldn't be; he had passed Vanderbrant's vigorous entry exam.
The bell rang. Students began coursing from the classroom. Cedric packed away his books, glancing to the desk in front where Mr. McCormack was gathering his things and wondering if the teacher would call him to stay for a moment or two.
A heavy hand clapped on his shoulder. "Congratulations," Andy told him, then leaned down near his ear. "Think you're hot shit, don't you? Second day of class and teacher's pet. You don't fool me."
Before Cedric could say a single word, Andy and his little posse were moving off.
He stared down at his books for a moment, the dumbness of bewilderment holding him immobile. What could he do? They would be waiting for him outside. He couldn't stay talking with Mr. McCormack forever. Teacher's pet. Doing that much would seal the nail on his coffin.
Alistair McCormack looked up with a vaguely sheepish smile as Cedric approached, school bag dangling from one hand. "Sorry, I know this may not have been exactly what you had in mind when you suggested it...but I think you'll be a good class leader, Cedric, you seem conscientious and bright."
Cedric flushed, turning his gaze down to study his toes. "Thank you, Mr. McCormack," he said quietly. "I'll do my best." He felt a little silly repeating his words of earlier.
"I'm sure you will."
There seemed no more reason to stay. Cedric lingered for a moment anyhow, settling his backpack onto his thin shoulders, keeping his eyes fixed on the door. He knew the boys were lurking out in the hallway, as they had been yesterday. He wondered if today the harrassment would be more overt.
He shuffled into the hallway and glanced one way, saw Andy and his friends hovering by the lockers. He glanced the other way, the route of escape, and gaped. "Ru-Rukawa!"
"Hi," Akito Rukawa replied. He was leaning against the doorframe, towering nearly six feet tall as Cedric remembered. The older boy jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You ready to go?"
"Yes!" Cedric craned his neck to look at him. "I, I wasn't expecting...I mean, you didn't have to..."
Rukawa looked down at him, then beyond him. "Didn't I tell you? They won't bother you if you have someone to walk you home."
"Oh." Cedric blinked, speechless for a moment, then fell into step beside Rukawa, scrambling to catch up with the longer stride. Barely audible, he said, "Thanks." He wondered if this time he would have the courage to invite Rukawa upstairs for lemonade.
They were halfway across the way from campus to park before Cedric realized that if there was going to be any conversation, he was going to have to supply it. He wasn't used to being the one to provide initiative; it put him into a novel position. Roman was the talker in the family, the one who asked questions as easily as breathing.
He wanted to ask Rukawa why he'd come to class, but the answer was obvious. "To walk you home." But why should Rukawa want to do that, protect him? It was a mystery.
"So," Cedric ventured, "if you're not in a sport, are you in a club?" He looked up.
Rukawa's mouth twitched. "Not yet."
Of course. It was only the second day of class; sign-ups for extracurricular activities had just begun. The one that Rukawa was interested in might not have started yet. "I'm on our school's academic decathlon team," Cedric offered quietly. "At least, I was in elementary school...sign-ups for the team are tomorrow, so I'll join then. Are you..."
"Kendo club," Rukawa said unexpectedly. He paused beside the fountain in the middle of the park, looking into its waters.
"Have you done kendo before?"
"No." Rukawa dug in his pocket, brought out a penny, and flipped it into the waters. "I played basketball at my old school. I don't want to play that sport anymore, though."
"Oh." Cedric looked down at the glittering bed of pennies that overlaid the stone basin of the fountain. There were a lot of wishes strewn in the water. He wondered if Rukawa had just added to the pile with one of his own, rather than simply performing the automatic gesture of tossing in the penny. "Is it...on the way for you?"
"Huh?" Rukawa blinked down at him.
"My building," Cedric clarified, aware that his non-sequitur might have been hard to follow. "Is it on the way home from school for you?" He was suddenly anxious. It was the only way he knew to ask the boy why he was protecting him.
Rukawa tilted his head. "More or less." He put his hands in his pockets again, cast another look at the depths of the fountain, and set the pace again. Cedric scrambled to keep up.
Cedric's sense of anxiety rose as they waited at the corner for the light to change. He was running out of time and conversational gambits. They crossed the street in silence, Cedric taking two to three steps for every single stride of Rukawa's. Finally he squeaked, "Ru-Rukawa...do you want to come up for a snack?" He bowed his head and felt heat rising off the back of his neck. Why was it so hard to say something like that? Roman could've said it a dozen times over; did, if the number of boys he had over after school was any indication.
After a moment of silence he looked up. Rukawa seemed faintly surprised.
"I...I want to thank you with more than just words," Cedric added. "It's not much, but I can cook."
"All right," Rukawa said. He hesitated, then added, "I don't want you to think you owe me anything. You don't."
"But I do!" Cedric said earnestly.
Rukawa hesitated again. "That sort of thing isn't a debt between friends," he said quietly.
Cedric's eyes rounded. The happy glow that those words gave him buoyed him clear through the foyer and past the heavy, locked double doors that guarded the entrance of the Carrack building.
"This building belonged to my grandfather," Cedric told Rukawa as they cycled through the second locked entrance. "It was one of his properties from before the Rising, and he overhauled the security system afterwards. He gave the building to my mother when she married my father. They always lived here on the top floor, when they were in New York."
The walls of the hallway that led to the elevator were sheathed in green marble shot through with veins of white and sparkling flakes of gold. Light burned in metal sconces affixed to the wall. The floor beneath their feet was marble, too, rose-colored tiles flecked with black and gray. Each tile was seamed into place with gold rather than grout. Cedric had been told the interior of the building hadn't been modified at all; this was how it had been before the Rising. They passed a couple of plush forest-green couchs flanking the elevator and he pressed the button. Beside the elevator stood a spindly mahogany table; on top of it, an Oriental vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. The flowers were replaced every third day even in winter.
"I think that's why the other students hate me," Cedric said thoughtfully.
Rukawa spoke up again. "They don't hate you."
Cedric tilted his head up to pin the older boy with a dubious glance.
Rukawa took a breath, almost like a huff. His eyes slid off into the corner as he said, "Some of them envy you. The rest keep their distance. Didn't you see, at lunch? There's always someone looking at you."
Cedric blinked. "I, uh, didn't notice." He thought back, cudgeling his brains for a specific snapshot of the afternoon. He knew he was like Gabriel in many respects, but was he really that unaware of his surroundings? He thought back to the class election, when the girl beside him had congratulated him. She hadn't been the only one to vote for him. He had won the popular vote. All he could remember of lunchtime was Rukawa's dark eyes, resting on him or roaming the cafeteria.
In the elevator, it took another key to unlock the button that took them to the top floor, because the top floor was the Vailles' entirely. The apartment was empty, as he had expected -- Gabriel always worked until at least five, no matter how many classes he had during the day, and Roman would be at work until after dinner time; only rarely did he come home before five. He settled Rukawa in the warm golden nook of the far end of the kitchen, and brought out fresh lemonade that he had made the day before.
"Finger sandwiches?" he offered, wishing he had known beforehand that he was going to be inviting Rukawa upstairs. He might have tried for something more traditional, like odango, if he'd known in advance...and if he knew Rukawa's tastes, of course.
"Whatever you like," Rukawa replied. He looked around, resting his chin on his hand. "Who else lives here?"
"My brothers," Cedric said, busying himself in the kitchen. He had all the ingredients ready to hand. "Gabriel is a professor at the university, and Roman is in high school. He models, I don't know if you've ever seen him...his professional name is River."
Rukawa shrugged when Cedric turned inquiring eyes in his direction. "What about your parents?"
"They died when I was very young," Cedric replied. "My father was an archaeologist, and my mother an anthropologist; they were quite famous in academic circles. But they went on a field expedition eight years ago and that time, they never came back."
"Don't be." Cedric arranged sandwiches on one plate. "I hardly remember them, actually, but Gabriel has been like a father to me, and Roman..." He turned away to hide his smirk. The words Roman has been like a mother had almost slipped out. It wasn't true, really; Roman had been more an older brother...a pesky, annoying, relentless older brother. "...has been good to me," he finished lamely.
He placed the sandwiches between them along with a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade that he had made the day before while waiting for Gabriel and Roman to return home from that endless afternoon. Rukawa's eyes were on the view from the bay window, and when Cedric sat, they shifted to some point between the pitcher of lemonade and the plate of sandwiches, never quite settling on him. The very evasion made Cedric feel self-conscious.
"Can I call you 'senpai?'" Cedric asked suddenly, sitting up. He felt anxious for no particular reason.
Rukawa's dark eyes met his, slightly startled. "You know Japanese?"
"Yes, I've been studying it for a couple of years," Cedric admitted. "I-it runs in the family, studying. Except for Roman. Japanese is my third language."
Rukawa smiled, the expression barely touching his lips. "And you're younger than most people in your grade."
"Uh-huh," Cedric confirmed. "Are you fluent in Japanese?"
Rukawa nodded. "I was born here, but my parents hardly ever speak anything else at home."
"Can I?" Cedric pressed.
Rukawa's gaze turned inward for a moment. "Call me 'senpai?'"
"Well," Rukawa said with deliberation, "I am, so why shouldn't you?"
Cedric gave him a winning smile. He was dimly aware that the question had been an opening gambit, of sorts. "Rukawa-senpai," he said, trying it out.
Rukawa's gaze met his, and his eyes were dark and intent and focused for a split second before he looked away, long-fingered hand reaching out to capture one of the sandwiches that Cedric had prepared. There was something there that Cedric had never seen before.
He was determined to put his finger on it, the nature of that look.
A bead of sweat rolled down Gabriel's temple as he twitched his finger in the glove of the waldo, depressing the switch that would make the glove move infinitesimally, turning the delicate page of the grimoire. The book had been delivered into his care only the day before and already he was trying to dive into its secrets headlong. Abstractly, he knew he would be staying very late at the office tonight, because the layers of secrets that this volume had to reveal were dense and fascinating.
"Roy," he said over his shoulder, "could you--" He stopped in consternation. He was sweating and his hair was falling into his eyes and he wanted to ask his protege to tie it back and blot his brow; he was in the middle of a manipulation and couldn't withdraw his attention from the grimoire in its vacuum environment. Where was his protege?
Then he remembered: the grant request had been approved with unusual haste that very morning. Gabriel was dimly aware that it probably had something to do with Ms. Carson's visit yesterday, as well as the fact that Roy had lifted the screen file from his possession that morning before his first class. The masters student had probably given it a good working-over before submitting it, he knew, the same way he worked over his lesson plans to simplify the text.
Roy, with his typical decisive administrative speed, had already arranged the interviews for the assistant position. Gabriel had been exempted from participating in the process, which he viewed with a great deal of relief -- there was, after all, research to be done. He trusted the decisions of his protege.
Still, that was why his student wasn't in the office right then, to assist him.
With a sigh, Gabriel turned his attention back to the waiting waldoes and brightened as he looked past thick clear plasteel at the faded pages of the grimoire with its spidery flowing script. He had rarely seen a more beautiful sight. It was very old, that much he had determined from sampling the text of the cover and the first inside page, yet the volume had been discovered in North America; even more strangely, it had been discovered somewhere near destroyed Los Angeles. The notes from the scientists who had run dating tests indicated that the volume had lain in its cask unsealed for nearly three centuries.
It was patently impossible. It was a delightful puzzle. No demon societies had existed during that time, at that place. The cask had been found in the midst of human artifacts and remnants, also highly unusual. Yet the evidence was undeniable.
Gabriel would work himself into the mystery a page at a time. If the grimoire followed the pattern of other such texts he'd translated, the first half would be ritual and spell, the second would contain closely-written histories. It was the whole text Orion Corporation wanted for translation, but they placed their priorities on the first half, where Gabriel's scholarly bias lay with the second.
Fingers brushed the nape of his neck and he started violently, managing not to twitch his hands at the last instant and risk destroying a page of the precious grimoire. "Roy!" he said, tone chastising, then expelled a sigh of relief as the young man gathered his hair together in both hands and bound it at his nape with an elastic band. "You startled me. Are the interviews over so soon?"
"Well...yeah." There was something odd in Roy's voice, a touch of sheepishness perhaps. "Shall we discuss the results?"
Gabriel finished laying the page flat with utmost care, then withdrew the waldoes and pulled his hands free. He turned, chin in hand, already mentally mapping how he would begin his translations. "Huh? Oh, certainly. Am I expected to make the hiring decision?"
"Uh, no, I already made that," Roy admitted. He seated himself on the edge of his desk, folding his arms over his chest.
Gabriel raised a brow. "Then what's the problem?" he asked mildly, relieved that he wouldn't have to go through the bother of sorting through resumes and enduring Roy's description of each candidate. He could go right back to his translations, and Roy would grade papers, and they'd have a productive evening.
"Well...I don't know if it will be a problem, exactly," Roy hedged. "It's Keiran O'Bannon."
"Who?" Gabriel asked, adjusting his glasses on his nose. He was perplexed. Roy had made his pronouncement with every evidence of trepidation, as if he expected Gabriel to tell him he'd done something wrong.
Roy blinked at him. "Keiran O'Bannon. Freshman. Gangling redhead, comes to your after-hours sessions a lot. Stopped by yesterday to bring Ms. Carson to the office."
"Oh, of course!" Gabriel rubbed his chin. "You know I'm not good with names...yes, I remember him. Ah, I know! You've got a bit of a crush on him, haven't you?" He was enormously proud of himself for remembering that tidbit. Just as Roman accused him, he was not particularly aware of his surroundings, but that much had sunk in from observing Roy's behavior whenever the young man in question left the room.
"No! Well, I...uh, kind of...no, that's not the point!" Roy sputtered.
"Oh?" Gabriel frowned. He wanted to get back to his grimoire, take photoslides of the open pages, and resume his translation so his attention was no longer strictly on the conversation, if in fact it had ever been completely so.
"I'm sorry," Roy said a bit helplessly. "I know I shouldn't have done it, but..." He began to rub the back of his neck again, one of his more nervous habits. Gabriel wanted to warn him that he'd wear the hair off his nape some day.
"What's wrong?" Gabriel prompted, now quite impatient.
"He's got a crush on you, Gabriel," Roy said, giving him a frown as if he couldn't quite believe the density he was dealing with. "He's one of your ardent admirers. You have them, you know."
"I suppose," Gabriel said vaguely, also frowning. "Are you sure? I thought he was just devoted to the subject..." He was a little disappointed. It was true that Keiran rarely missed an after-hours session and he always seemed so involved, his wide eyes brimming with excitement.
"He is, I'll give him that," Roy said, a bit wry. "You think I would have hired a completely unqualified assistant? Anthropology, ancient languages, I certainly can't fault him on his studies. But, um, yes, Gabriel, I'd have to say the boy is one of your biggest fans."
"Oh." Gabriel eyed his woebegone masters student. "Then why did you hire him? Oh. OH. Never mind, forget I asked."
Roy sighed. "I can pick someone else...I know I shouldn't have, but..."
"It's a chance to be close to him, right?" Gabriel said gently. "For productivity's sake, I think you should have hired a woman."
Roy broke into a sheepish smile. "Well, at least you're not angry. I'll make sure he stays on task, I promise." He rubbed at his nape again. "It was a difficult decision, you know. There were a lot of applicants--"
"That's all right, I don't need to know the details," Gabriel interrupted hastily. "Just so I can get back to that book." He cast a longing glance over his shoulder.
"Oh?" Roy assumed a look of surprise. "Aren't you going to orient him? Your new assistant?"
Gabriel adjusted his glasses. "Didn't I make it clear? You'll be working with him, Roy. I'll be focusing my attention on Orion's latest project."
"Ehh??" The younger man lurched back, bumping into his own desk. He stumbled, then braced himself against it, looking at Gabriel with sudden desperation. "You can't mean..."
"I suppose I gave you a false impression, calling him my assistant," Gabriel said thoughtfully, folding his arms. "He'll be assisting us in the office, but reporting to you. Sorry to inconvenience you, but I'll need to shift more of the workload to your shoulders for the next few weeks."
Roy was suddenly speech-deprived.
Now that he knew the score, Gabriel couldn't help adding, "Take good care of him." It was the constant exposure to Roman that made him say something so wicked; at least, that was the convenient excuse.
That got a reaction. He left Roy sputtering behind him and went to position the photoscanner.
Gabriel scanned the open pages. During the time he was occupied, he was peripherally aware of Roy leaving the room. By the time he had scanned and loaded the photoslides into his notepad, Roy was re-entering the room with a lanky redhead in tow.
"Hey, professor, give us a moment, will you?" Roy said politely, waving a hand at the edge of his vision.
Gabriel straightened, giving a last longing glance to the slide that was loading on his screen. The first few pages alone could give him valuable insights into this unique tome.
"This is our new assistant," Roy said, taking up a stance beside his desk. He gestured, and the redhead stepped forward. "Keiran O'Bannon, freshman. He's in your second-year anthropology and third-level ancient languages courses, remember?"
Gabriel gave him a nettled glance, then smiled encouragingly at Keiran. "O'Bannon, yes, you've been to every after-hours session, haven't you?"
Keiran's face lit up. "Yes!" He smiled, extending a hand. "I'm so excited to work with you, Professor Vaille!"
Gabriel adjusted his glasses again before clasping the boy's hand. His opinion of O'Bannon had cooled after learning he was attending the after-hours sessions for Gabriel himself, rather than the subject. "Actually, O'Bannon, you'll primarily be assisting my graduate student."
"Oh?" Keiran blinked up at him. "Oh...I see. I, I'll do my best." He actually sounded dejected.
"Take care of him, Roy," Gabriel said, looking over the boy's head at his protege. He knew Roy well enough to recognize the quickly-masked flash of hurt that had crossed his face, transformed into a studied neutrality. This was a potentially volatile situation; he'd have to absent himself as much as possible. "Well, I'm going to get back to it."
"Sure. O'Bannon, one of the things we're sadly lacking around here is a filing system..."
Gabriel turned his back on them, noting that the slide for the first page had loaded completely onto the notepad. He considered taking it out to the terrace just outside the office wing, then remembered that there was a chance of encountering another professor or graduate student. The particular translations he was working on weren't for public consumption. That reminded him...
"Roy, don't forget to have O'Bannon sign the confidentiality waiver," Gabriel said, half-turning from his desk.
Roy flipped a hand at him. "Way ahead of you, teach."
Gabriel shook his head, smiling faintly, then bent his head back to his notes. When he had first glanced at it, he'd thought it was one of the Five, the most important grimoires of the Nephilim, the highest order of demons that had appeared since the Rising. Virtually human in appearance -- save for some unusual traits such as crimson eyes or silver hair -- the Nephilim were the greatest threat to humanity. They were intelligent and cunning, and possessed the tools to direct the lower demons as they wished. Their goal ever since the Rising had been clear: domination of the human world.
Parts of the grimoire were certainly old enough for it to be one of the Five -- the ivory portion of the binding. The cask it had been found in certainly wasn't that old, though, and it had been found in a place that was patently, well, impossible. There had been no demon settlements in that area before the Rising. He was on the edge of a monumental discovery.
"What's the professor working on?" Gabriel heard Keiran asking behind him.
"I'll tell you after you sign that confidentiality waiver," Roy answered.
"It's that important?"
More so, Gabriel thought reverently. This could quite possibly be the centerpiece of his academic career; a demon Rosetta Stone with even more treasures to unlock. He seated himself and magnified the page to 300x enlargement, one hand reaching for a dog-eared translation reference. He'd never been so happy in his life.
"Ahh...ahhhn..." Roman slumped against the last row of lockers, one hand holding up the pants gone slack around his thighs. "Nng...FUCK!"
Derrek leaned back on his heels, wiping at his mouth with the back of one wrist. "'S good?"
"Damn," Roman sighed in answer, withdrawing his free hand from Derrek's shaggy blonde hair and swiping his own bangs back from his forehead. "You can ambush me after gym class any time, babe."
Derrek grinned up at him seductively, then a look of almost comic proportions crossed his handsome face. "Shit, I completely forgot about lunch." He lifted his wrist to check the time. "Whoa...Roman, you took a long time. We've got ten minutes left!"
"Maybe you just need more practice to make me come," Roman jeered, touching the hinge of Derrek's jaw then pulling his pants up with both hands. "It only took you about ten minutes after you put it in..."
"Fuck you," Derrek said amiably. "Next time I'll make you come faster."
"Hmm." Roman smirked as he buttoned his slacks. He never could tell these guys that "next time" wasn't a sure thing. He couldn't let any one of them get too attached.
The hallways were deserted as they left the locker room. It was still nearly ten minutes before the bell that signaled the interval between class periods, and most of the students were at one of Vanderbrant High's four cafeterias, or enjoying the gorgeous day out on the wide front lawn.
"I've gotta go grab lunch in the Washington cafeteria, it's closest," Derrek told him. "You wanna join me?"
"Thanks, but I've got a lunch in my locker," Roman demurred.
"Right, see you in class."
Roman glanced out the window as he strolled through the halls, hands shoved in his pockets. His locker was right near his classroom, so he'd grab lunch and bolt it down before the first afternoon class began.
"River! Hey, River!"
"Hm?" Roman looked over his shoulder and paused, a genuine smile spreading over his face. "Hey, Charming."
Charlotte Mead waved at him madly, jogging to catch up with him from halfway down the hall. Her ample breasts bounced beneath her uniform blouse. She beamed at him. "Oh, River. Well, it's an upgrade from 'Char,' anyhow."
"I think it suits you," Roman said simply.
Charlotte fell into step beside him. "Going back to class?"
"Yeah, I've got to eat lunch in about...five minutes, now. What are you doing roaming the halls during lunch time?"
Charlotte waved a hand back and forth. "Posters, you know! I'm vice-captain of the volleyball team this year, so I was putting up posters!" Her good-natured face was alight. "I'm hoping we can get some really strong new members this year."
Roman could only smile at her enthusiasm. Charlotte Mead was in that rarest of female categories: girls who didn't want him. She was sweet, totally uncomplicated, and unbelievably cheerful. She was friendly with everyone, and because of this she was popular with both boys and girls. She had attached herself to Roman in their freshman year because, as she'd proclaimed at the time, he was "so pretty." He also thought they got on well because she'd recognized instinctively that he wasn't interested in her on a sexual level, and because of it, they'd become friends. Even though Charlotte came across as kind of a ditz, her grades were even higher than Roman's, so occasionally he mooched off her study notes...when she would let him.
"Let's step up the pace," he suggested.
"Oh, River, you wouldn't have to cram your lunch into five minutes if you'd stop messing around in the boy's locker room for almost the whole period..." Charlotte said reproachfully. "It's only the second day of class!"
"My libido won't wait until the end of the day," Roman said airily. "Don't be a drag, Charming, it doesn't suit you."
"Anyhow, anyhow!" Charlotte dismissed that with another wave of her hand, turning a shining face in his direction. "I was putting up posters in the forecourt and I heard the principal talking!"
"Oh? Something peak your interest?" Roman asked, mildly curious.
"Um! Yes! There's a new student starting in our class today!" Charlotte exclaimed. She bounced on her toes beside him and her long ash-blonde hair swished at her back. "I only caught a glimpse, but he looks really cool!"
Roman considered this. "That is pretty unusual, why wouldn't he start yesterday? Transfer student?"
"I heard he took the exam yesterday," Charlotte confirmed. She held up a finger. "Exciting, huh? I wonder why he didn't start until today..."
"Hmm, didn't you eavesdrop on that?"
"Hey! There's a difference between eavesdropping and overhearing by accident, you know!"
Roman laughed and swatted the back of her head. "It's a fine line, you know."
There was barely enough time before the sixth period for Roman to inhale his lunch as he sat at his desk -- third row back next to the window, the seat he always tried to snag every year. Charlotte was in the seat ahead of him, as usual, and turned it around in the last few minutes before class to chatter away about the morning's lessons, likely cliques forming, and upcoming weekend activities. Roman listened with half an ear, watching the class fill up slowly in the interval between bells. The new student would come in with the teacher, he knew, and be introduced to the rest of the class at the beginning of the next period. He was really curious. If Char said he looked cool, then he was probably stunning.
"...there's a play at the Grand Avenue theater this weekend, you wanna come?"
"Huh?" He looked up from his last mouthful of spicy tuna and avocado roll. Roman could cook, but was lazy, so Cedric made the lunches. His little brother was in a total Japanese phase right now.
That reminded him, he really wanted to follow Cedric home...
"Oh, sorry, Charming." Roman gave her an unapologetic smile. "What time is the show?"
"Thirteen hundred, on Saturday," Charlotte replied, forgiving him with a smile of her own. "You busy?"
"I'll have to check with Damon, he's got my schedule." Roman pulled out his silenced cell phone and programmed a quick reminder.
"Does Damon know what a player you are?" Char asked curiously.
Roman smiled thinly. "Heh. He doesn't ask, I don't tell." He was as careful as he knew how to be.
Charlotte's hand smacked the desk. Her pretty face was screwed up with something approaching indignation. "You just better not do something stupid, you hear? I really like Damon!"
Roman leaned back from her wrath, raising his hands defensively. "Whoa, calm down, okay? I love the guy." He propped his chin on one fist, cheeks warm. It was hard to admit even to Char. "And I'm careful."
The second bell rang, and Charlotte stuck her tongue out at him before twisting around to settle in her chair.
Derrek slid into his seat just after the bell, catching Roman's eye from across the room. He gave him a lazy-eyed look with just the faintest edge of grin, inviting response.
Roman gave him a half-smile. He hadn't worn out the novelty so he supposed...he'd accept Derrek's advances for a little longer. He was already noticing Jarrod in his joint gym class, but he thought it was too early in the year to pick up another high school conquest. He leaned back in his seat as Mr. Kent entered the room. A tall lanky boy wearing the navy Vanderbrant uniform followed him in, a schoolbag slung over one shoulder.
"Cool" didn't even begin to cover it.
He feasted his eyes on long legs, hips slightly shot out as the body came to rest beside the teacher's desk, a slender torso and shoulders with a breadth that suggested good musculature. The new student -- it had to be him -- had a pale face that could have made a classic statue jealous. He was beautiful; handsome didn't cover it. Slivers of gold-streaked chestnut bangs fell over his forehead and partially obscured his eyes. Those scanned the classroom in the next instant, flashing over every corner and face with a cautious, wary appraisal that made Roman narrow his own eyes.
His eyes met Roman's briefly. They were a pale gray, lupine, like the tumbled edge of clouds before the storm.
Then he looked away.
Roman felt a moment of pique. The new student hadn't appraised him one iota longer than any of the others in the class. He'd have to sic Charming on him; she was his best measure for where a boy stood on the straightness scale.
"Quiet down, class," Mr. Kent called out, tapping his stylus on the data wall. "You've had plenty enough time to be noisy. We've got a new student to welcome this afternoon."
A hush fell over the classroom, needing only this excuse to conform. Over twenty pairs of speculative eyes had already turned in the direction of the newcomer.
From Mr. Kent's resigned tone, the man knew the attention of the class had already shifted. "You want to introduce yourself? Name, where you're from, a little bit of background."
The gorgeous boy ran a hand through his bangs, raking them back from his forehead and eyes for all of two seconds. He cast another glance around the class, and Roman could see a hint of irritation in his piercing gray gaze. "Hi," the new boy said, and moistened carmine lips with his tongue. "I'm Arashi Loire. I just moved from San Francisco." He dropped his hand to one hip and looked at the teacher.
"Some background?" Mr. Kent prompted.
Even from his seat Roman could see the lifted eyebrows. Arashi turned back to the class, expressionless. "I moved to New York because my mother got an overseas transfer in February. My father lives here. It took two months to move from one coast to this one. I speak two languages besides English...Japanese and French." He turned to the teacher. "That enough?"
Mr. Kent appeared somewhat taken aback. "Certainly. There's a seat open...ah, next to Roman, third row, two seats from the window."
Roman tried very hard not to grin. He propped his chin on one hand, eyes sliding toward the window so that he wouldn't put himself in the awkward position of watching the gorgeous leggy boy approaching. He'd noticed what Arashi hadn't said -- anything personal about himself whatsoever.
Charlotte turned around briefly, just enough to give him a glimpse of her sparkling eyes.
Oh, it would be difficult indeed to induce her to give Arashi a try.
Arashi slid into the seat beside him, stretching out his long legs. His gray eyes flashed briefly in Roman's direction, then he was fixing his attention on the front of the class.
"Get out your English texts, then, and we'll discuss the assigned reading," Mr. Kent said, bending to the pad on his desk to write out a topic question that appeared on the data wall behind him. Compare the opening themes to those laid out in "The Three Musketeers." "Loire, I don't know if you've read Dumas' 'Queen Margot,' but--"
"I have," Arashi spoke dryly.
"Eh, good. If you pull your desk over to the left you can share Roman's text."
Roman didn't bother to hide a grin as Arashi obeyed, desk legs scraping across the tiled floor. He pulled the text out, noticing as he did that Arashi looked in his direction again, now seeming irritated. "We read chapters one through five last night," he murmured.
"Thanks," Arashi said, toneless.
Roman's brows raised. He was already forming an impression of Arashi, and the Japanese translation of his name -- tempest -- seemed less applicable than "ice storm."
Well, he'd always liked a challenge.
Cedric gathered up the plates and laid them in the sink, glancing over at the kitchen table and Rukawa from the corner of his eye. Chin in hand, the older boy was looking out the wide bay window. The afternoon sun had deepened to a golden glint over the edge of the buildings, casting a hazy pall over the city. He ran the water, rinsing crumbs from the plates and remembering the feeling that had stolen over him as he watched Rukawa's long-fingered hand reach for the last of the sandwiches. "Do you have to go?" He glanced at the clock.
Rukawa's eyes flickered in his direction. "Not particularly."
"Hmm..." Cedric tilted his head to the side, considering as he finished with the plates and laid them in the drying rack. "Do you play chess?"
Rukawa laid his arms on the table and looked at him. "I've played it."
Cedric smiled, then caught himself. "Uh, would you like to? Right now, I mean. Unless you have homework..."
"It's early," Rukawa said calmly, glancing at the wall clock. He looked at Cedric again and his eyes were questioning, as if to say "do you want me to leave?"
"I...I'll go get the set!" Cedric backed up, then left the kitchen. He felt a little silly. Was there something else one should do, with a friend? Watch movies, or something? He wasn't really all that fond of movies. And Rukawa didn't seem the type to begin rough-housing without warning, as most of Roman's friends were prone to do.
He snagged his school bag on the way to the hall and went to his room, the second door halfway down the hall just beyond the study. It was a sparsely furnished room, walnut-stained wooden floors and walls of the palest shade of green bordered at the baseboard and ceiling with golden-accented ivy wallpaper, green and ivory vines twisting around the perimeter of the room. A heavy claw-footed bed was pushed into one corner of the spacious room, a thick forest green comforter pulled up neatly to the dark walnut headboard. Three fat ivory pillows lined the headboard. Cedric knew his mother had decorated the room when he was a little boy, and Roman had discussed remodeling it with him when he was eight, but Cedric had decided the room suited him.
Besides the bed, a dark-stained mahogany desk was in the corner beside the wide window that opened onto a scenic view of the park and the schoolgrounds beyond it. A pad of paper lay beside Cedric's powered-down notebook computer; a pen holder, stapler, and other desktop items were lined up neatly behind the blotter beside an old-fashioned desk lamp. A stereo fixture was hidden away beneath the desktop, and whenever Cedric wanted to listen to music he had merely to manipulate its controls. Discreet speakers were embedded in the walls on three sides of the room; the stereo's controls modulated the volume for all three. The room's only other features were a pair of bookcases in the other corner beside the window, and a roomy, comfortable plush chair opposite his bed with another lamp standing sentinel beside it.
Cedric had a walk-in closet, and this was where he kept most of his belongings besides his clothes. It was to this he went to fetch his chess set, stored neatly with a slew of other games on the shelving immediately to the left when one entered the closet.
He emerged with the set in his arms, happy once more. Someone was here, in this very house, and he wanted to play with him. Before, Cedric had only used this set with his older brothers. Gabriel most often; Roman when he could be pestered into exercising his lazy brains.
He heard a familiar voice as he neared the kitchen and quickened his step.
"...go to the junior high with Cedric, don't you? I didn't expect to come home and find someone here." Roman's voice. For some reason, that made Cedric nervous.
"Yes," Rukawa replied. After a brief pause, he added, "I go to the junior high."
"Really." That particular tone made Cedric very nervous. "You're a senior?"
"Aniki, what are you doing home?" Cedric asked, hovering on the threshold of the kitchen.
Roman's lanky form turned in his direction. His school shirt was unbuttoned, baring a pale stripe of chest and stomach, and his bag dangled loosely from one hand. He was, Cedric noted with some surprise, probably the same height as Rukawa, or a little shorter. "Darling, you brought a friend home!" he said effusively, drifting toward him to ruffle a hand over Cedric's hair. "I'm so proud of you. I've got work, leibchen, but I stopped by to change. I don't want to show up for meetings dressed like a schoolboy. Damon's waiting downstairs in his car." Inexplicably, Roman smirked.
"I wouldn't want to keep you waiting," Cedric said pointedly, sidestepping him with a small grimace. Roman was like one of those unpredictable big cats.
"Oh, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" Roman paused, setting a hand on his hip. He looked down at Cedric, then his jade-green eyes narrowed as he looked over at Rukawa again.
Very, very nervous.
"This is Akito Rukawa," Cedric said quickly, clutching the chess set to his thin chest. "Senpai, this is my older brother Roman Vaille."
Rukawa inclined his head.
"Oh...senpai, huh?" Roman's brows rose. "At last, Cedric has found someone to practice his Japanese on." He looked at them a moment longer, while Cedric bit his lip and edged over toward the kitchen table.
Rukawa helped him lay out the chess pieces once Cedric placed down the board. It was an older set, something Gabriel had given to him that had belonged to their grandfather. He vaguely remembered playing chess with Donough Vanderbrant, back when the man had spotted him two pawns and a knight whenever they played. The black pieces were ebony; the white, ivory. The board was cedar inlaid with enamel tile, and smelled fragrant and good even after so long and countless games.
Roman watched them set the board, then left the kitchen without a word. This was a mental relief to Cedric, though there was still something nagging him in the back of his mind. Maybe it had been the way his brother had looked at his senpai...
"You can be black," Cedric offered, and pursed his lips briefly in consideration. "Do you want a handicap?"
Rukawa's dark eyes bored into him for a moment. "You're that good?"
Cedric scratched at his temple self-consciously. "Well, if I weren't on the decathlon team, I'd be on the chess team I suppose."
Rukawa looked at him a moment more, then said "I'll take a pawn and knight handicap. That okay?"
"Yes. Let's play!" he said effusively.
Once he had done so and Cedric had moved his first pawn, he sensed rather than saw his brother hovering in the door of the kitchen once more. Roman didn't say anything, but stood there watching the opening moves of their game until Rukawa captured a pawn with one of his knights. Then Roman stepped into the kitchen, opening the fridge and standing before it for a long moment, removing a drink, and standing there again.
Cedric turned to look at his brother. "See you at dinner time," he said.
"Oh, what are you making?" Roman said with interest.
"Weinerschnitzel, spaetzel, and brussels sprouts," Cedric replied. Gabriel had brought home the veal cutlets two days ago and it was time to eat them. He liked to make themed meals.
"Ja, gut," Roman said with a laugh. "But it's just you and Gabriel tonight, leibchen. I'm having dinner with Damon."
"Oh," Cedric said with a small frown. They would have leftovers, then, because there was too much meat and he had to make it all.
"Be good, Cede. Don't keep your senpai from his homework for too long."
"Don't use stupid nicknames!" Cedric exclaimed, but Roman was gone, leaving his laughter behind an instant before the door closed. He glanced at Rukawa briefly, but the older boy's eyes were focused on the board. A small smile alighted on his lips, but he quickly suppressed it. Rukawa had taken the pawn, which drew him neatly into the trap that would take his knight in two moves and seal that part of the board. Cedric made his move and settled back in his chair, studying the ebony and ivory pieces. If he wanted, he could look at the tabletop and call up page after page of one of his chess texts, duplicating moves of master players. Using eidetic memory was cheating, though, and he wouldn't do it.
Asking Rukawa to stay for dinner would probably be pushing it. He glanced beneath his lashes at Rukawa as he studied the board, frowning, then stretched his hand forth to make a move.
It was funny. He was happier than he'd been in a long time.
"Professor, Mr. Masters says you shouldn't hunch over the photoslides for too long," an anxious voice said, and a cup of coffee was thrust into Gabriel's field of vision.
"I'm not hunching," Gabriel protested automatically, straightening his broad shoulders and sitting upright. His neck twanged a faint reproach. He grasped the paper cup, looking up into the bright-eyed gaze of his new assistant.
"Of course not," Keiran said, flushing. "Um, can I help with anything?"
Gabriel looked beyond the student into the office proper and noticed with faint surprise that most of the piles of books and papers had disappeared, filed away into some semblance of order. Now he'd never be able to find anything without asking his assistant, as his brain had mapped the location of each and every document within those vanished piles. Which was, he considered, probably Roy's method of passive-aggressive revenge for pawning Keiran off on him.
"That's good, thanks," Gabriel said vaguely, reaching to adjust his glasses with one finger. "Where did Roy go?" He glanced at the clock, noting with some surprise that it was already seven. He would have to leave soon, or Cedric would wind up eating dinner alone. He wanted to make some more photoslides first, and he had enough time for that much.
"The vending machine," Keiran replied, backing up to brace himself on the door frame of Gabriel's office, a token division from the rest of the space he shared with his graduate student and materials.
When Gabriel had first started his tenure at Vanderbrant, he'd had a single-room cubbyhole on the third floor like most of the new professors. He had earned a place on the first floor over time, and had gradually acquired the digs he had now. The space was situated in the corner of the professor's wing, and was composed of a small inner office that looked out on the lawn and had enough space for his desk, a bench beneath the window of the office wall opposite his desk, and the two creaking bookcases against each wall that flanked his desk. The outer office was cosy, with Roy's desk in the corner on the far side from his office, and a set of couches and chairs surrounding a coffee table in the other. A data wall was set up on the wall between them, which was used when the two of them were working over concepts or holding after-hours sessions with the students. The entire outer office was lined with bookshelves and filing cabinets, because most of their reference materials were not on screen-file, or because it was simply easier to locate a book than it was one in a million screen-files. The space outside Gabriel's office to the right contained the vacuum chamber he used to handle the most delicate materials, and other gear of his trade was cluttered on tables to the left of his tiny office.
"The vending machine?" Gabriel repeated with a frown. Every professor's wing had one. Their building had a machine with hot food and drinks, a machine with cold food and drinks, and an espresso machine.
"Yes, he said something about not really wanting to stay for dinner, but having so much work..."
Gabriel stood. His intention hadn't been to chain the man to his desk with work and at any rate, they'd be in the office a few hours before the first class tomorrow. "We'll see about that."
"Oh, good." Keiran sounded relieved. "I know it's not my place, but I was wondering, I mean, it's getting kind of late..."
"Standing rule," Gabriel interrupted. "You can leave whenever your tasks are done, O'Bannon, you don't have to ask. We're pretty informal, Roy and I, and the only thing that matters is getting the work done by the end of the week."
"Okay," Keiran said, and stood there in the doorway looking at him.
Gabriel glanced behind him. Twilight was spreading a fringe of purple on the lawn beyond his window. He sipped from his cup and got a mouthful of foam, then looked back to Keiran and blinked. Then he remembered.
"Excuse me," he said politely, indicating the door.
"Oh!" Keiran shook himself free of his seeming stupor and backed up, allowing Gabriel the room to pass. "Sorry, Professor Vaille."
Gabriel smiled, adjusted his glasses again, and looked round his newly-unearthed office. "Good work," he said, suppressing the inward groan. It did look a great deal neater, and no doubt he would be able to find things once he got hang of Keiran's filing system, but he would blunder around for a week or two.
Roy came through the door and paused, looking warily at the two of them as if he'd expected to come back to some sort of tete-a-tete. There were cans in the crook of one arm and what looked like bowl ramen in the other hand. "Going home, Gabriel?"
"Not just yet," Gabriel replied, rotating first one shoulder, then the other. "Food's a good idea, but if I stay here through dinner Roman just might kill me."
"Having dinner with the family again?"
"Roman?" Keiran blurted, looking up at Gabriel with wide canine-soulful eyes.
"My brother," Gabriel said with a gentle smile. He wouldn't be paying especial attention to the boy because it wasn't proper -- and Keiran simply wasn't his type -- but it wouldn't do to crush his youthful infatuation, either. "No, Roy, the boy's out having dinner with a co-worker again, so he let me know I'd better get home to have dinner with Cedric or I'll catch it. Cedric is my younger brother." He added the last for Keiran's benefit.
Co-worker. Uh-huh, Roy's wry eyes said to him, holding more than a hint of laughter.
"Before I do that, I want to make a few more photoslides to take home," Gabriel said eagerly. He sipped at his cappucino again and let himself drift back to the thought of his translations.
"You'd better not take them home," Roy said sharply. "There's no security to speak of in your apartment--"
"The building's perfectly secure," Gabriel returned, astonished. "And you know Roman and Cedric have no interest in my work."
"So you live with your brothers, professor?" Keiran interjected, still wide-eyed.
"My parents are deceased," Gabriel said. "Roman and Cedric have been in my care since that time, and will, no doubt, live with me until both have graduated from the University."
"The photoslides--" Roy pressed.
"It's all right, I won't take them home," Gabriel said soothingly. Perhaps it was the commute he thought they wouldn't survive, and it was true he shouldn't even take his notes from the campus. He typically left everything Orion gave him in the office safe, such was the nature of the work they entrusted to him. Ms. Carson herself was weapons-certified and he wouldn't know from experience but he thought she carried a side-arm. "As long as I get a good look at the pages I can work from memory."
Roy relaxed. "That's right, you can."
"You have a photographic memory, professor?" Keiran prompted.
"The term photographic is misleading," Gabriel began pedantically and Roy rolled his eyes. "I have an eidetic memory, which means I retain even the most minute details of every book I've read, conversations I've had, and so forth."
Keiran shivered a little. "That would be...overwhelming."
Gabriel smiled. He knew his brother wondered sometimes why he fit the absent-minded professor stereotype so well; his memory and his ability to concentrate to the exclusion of outside stimuli were the keys to the question. He also knew Roman didn't possess an eidetic memory, as their mother had, and so he'd never quite understand.
"How are the translations coming?" Roy asked.
"This reads so far like a demon book of standard spells," Gabriel said dryly. "Nonetheless, it's very exciting. I want to skip right to the histories, but being methodical dictates that I scan every page as I turn it."
"And you can't simply scan the whole book and begin your translations on the histories," Roy ragged him.
Gabriel raised a brow. "You know me better. I simply can't wait," he said with a shrug.
Roy held up one can, then the other, then set both on his desk with a sigh. "Back to work, I guess."
"You're done for the night," Gabriel said firmly. "I don't want you burning out and taking Keiran along with you."
"Oh, no, it's not--" Keiran began, simultaneous with Roy's outraged: "Burn out? Me!?"
"Go out for a real dinner," Gabriel ordered, and glanced at their new assistant. "Take Keiran while you're at it, so that I've got a witness to ensure you don't simply double back to the office after I leave."
Roy flushed unexpectedly.
"Do you need some money?" Gabriel asked solicitously, reaching for the wallet in his back pocket. "I know the university doesn't pay you much--"
"That's okay, I don't need it!" Roy snapped, raising his hands. He had a certain wild-eyed aspect like a creature run to ground. "Gabriel, come on, you're not serious..."
"Why wouldn't I be? Keiran, can I trust you with this request?" Gabriel asked, turning an earnest look on the young man. He wasn't above doing this much.
"Huh? Uh, oh, sure!" Keiran said with enthusiasm.
Roy gave him a dirty look and collected an armful of books to stuff in his bag. He was muttering something under his breath and Gabriel was quite sure it was uncomplimentary, possibly involving his parentage. "Let's go, O'Bannon."
Keiran cast a last look in Gabriel's direction, then tagged along. They got no further than the door, where Roy turned from the threshold, bag half-thrown over his shoulder. "Professor, there's someone here for you." With that, he brushed past Gabriel's visitor and left with Keiran in tow.
Gabriel set his coffee down, mildly piqued. Roy was typically better about screening visitors, especially when they were working on a project for Orion. He was the one who'd expressed a concern over security, in fact. "Can I help you?" He approached the door, adjusting his glasses.
"I sincerely doubt it." The rich deep baritone was thick with contempt.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stepped into the office, glancing this way and that as if the surroundings were both claustrophobic and beneath notice. He had a full head of thick, black hair and a strong-jawed, handsome face with piercing blue eyes. He was nearing fifty, but kept himself in trim shape and his face certainly didn't bear the marks of age. Gabriel knew from family album pictures that this man bore a strong resemblance to the way his father Donough Vanderbrant had looked in his youth but possessed no softening traces of friendliness or compassion.
"Richard," Gabriel greeted his uncle warily. "To what do I owe the honor of this appearance?" He was grateful the man hadn't tried to visit the Carrack building, seeing as Cedric was home alone and just as likely to invite his uncle in as not. Richard had begrudged the generous inheritances that his father had bestowed on his sister's children since the day the will had been read out.
"It's the year twenty-fifty, and today was the anniversary of Father's death, or don't you remember that much?" Richard said bluntly. "Another time-delayed trust was unsealed today." He took another step into the room, one hand smoothing down the gray front of his Armani suit.
"Ah." Gabriel folded his arms, leaning back against one of the work tables. "You didn't like the contents."
"I don't agree with the contents," Richard said blandly. His intense blue eyes narrowed with dislike. "You couldn't even be bothered to attend the meeting."
"Well, my lawyer neglected to inform me," Gabriel said, brow furrowing. "I would have arranged for someone to take care of my classes today. I teach occasionally you know, besides...what was it? Oh yes, 'throwing myself with witless absorption into the dusty details of centuries-old passe demonic leavings.' Just as my wastrel father and idiot mother did."
Richard's nostrils flared. "You and your brothers are inheriting the Vaille fortune. Why do you have a need for any part and parcel of my holdings?"
"They were your father's holdings," Gabriel returned equably. "We loved Grandfather Donough, and he loved us. He didn't will us anything because we needed it; rather, because he wanted us to have it."
"We'll see," Richard said abruptly, his expression taking on a menacing cast.
"What was it this time?" Gabriel demanded impatiently. "Honestly, you would think Grandfather willed us an industry, or something." At Richard's appraising silence, he grew nervous. Surely Grandfather hadn't been that shortsightedly generous. If they'd inherited a corporation, he'd gladly sign it over to Richard.
"The Vanderbrant Foundation," Richard spat, blue eyes kindling with a pale kind of fury. "Try to tell me you didn't know about this. Why else would you have obtained a professorship here, of all places; why else have you cultured yourself a very impressive corporate tie?"
Guiltily, Gabriel glanced behind him at the vacuum chamber where the grimoire lay opened to its sixth and seventh pages. He tried to remind himself that Richard had no way of knowing that the research material behind him was from that powerful corporate tie, nor would he be interested in the grimoire itself if he knew. Richard Vanderbrant had his eyes fixed on worldly interests...never mind that the demons were all too worldly now. "The Vanderbrant Foundation," he repeated, numbed. That meant Donough had willed the school to him. To them, really, though Roman would probably sign off on his share.
"Yes, the Foundation!" Richard barked. "Try and deny you knew about it!"
"I didn't know about it," Gabriel said fuzzily, pushing up his glasses. He turned to the table for support, and nearly fumbled his coffee cup onto the floor. He set that aside and his fingers itched for a cigarette though he'd quit years ago. "I mean, Grandfather never said..."
"You're dissembling," Richard said coldly, folding his arms. "I'm telling you now, I have no intention of letting this stand. You don't have what it takes to manage the Foundation, Gabriel; a man like you would run it into the ground inside five years."
Something sparked in his breastbone. Gabriel straightened, brushing lavender hair from his eyes and looking at Richard with deliberation. You have an awareness in you, my boy, that you'll find most of the people who surround you are sadly lacking, came Donough's voice to him across the gap of the years. You may not see or care for the things they immerse themselves in, but really it's for the better. You've the long view, Gabriel, you and your mother. "That's a matter of judgment, and given the choice I'd trust Grandfather's over yours any day, Richard." He leaned back and folded his own arms, the glint of steel firming his resolve. "Are we through?"
A mix of emotions swirled over the man's handsome face; disbelief, anger, and finally a thwarted brand of loathing. "For now, perhaps. We'll see how this endowment holds up in court."
Gabriel raised a brow but said nothing further as his uncle departed the room. Once the office door had slammed shut behind him, Gabriel's knees sagged and he twisted to support himself on the table's surface. He expelled a sigh. "Damn it..." Where Roman thrived on conflict, Gabriel shrank from it. He could handle it when he'd been pushed to it, as he had today.
In thinking of his brother, he was reminded of the other. "Oh, Cedric!" He hurried into his office and fished the cell phone from his jacket pocket. As usual, he had turned it off right before lecture, and forgotten to turn it back on. Doing so informed him that he had three messages. One was a number he recognized to be Richard's secretary; the other two were from Roman.
Hastily he located the contact for his home number and selected it. After three rings, Cedric picked up.
"Cedric, I'm sorry," Gabriel apologized at once. "I'll be home soon, I just need to finish making four more photoslides...scratch that, I'll work with what I have. Give me time to clean up here and I'll be home soon."
"It's okay," Cedric said, sounding oddly contented.
"I'm late for dinner, aren't I?" Gabriel prompted, now unsure.
"It's okay," Cedric repeated. "I haven't started yet. Rukawa-senpai was keeping me company. He just left."
A quick reel of memory unspooled before him; Roman divulging that Cedric was sexually attractive, then telling him that Cedric should get "the talk." A shudder ran down his back. "I'll be home soon. Is Rukawa-senpai still there?"
"No, he left about twenty minutes ago."
There was a world of information Cedric was not volunteering, he was sure. He knew because Cedric processed and handled things remarkably similar to the way he himself did. "All right. See you soon."
Gabriel clicked the cell phone shut and weighed the minute device in his hand thoughtfully. His focus was now securely shifted away from the photoslides onto this new matter. He slipped the phone into his pocket.
He knew he shouldn't take Roman's suspicions at face value. After all, simply because both he and Roman were inclined towards males didn't mean their little brother was, as well. In fact, the law of averages dicated he wasn't. Either way, Cedric was at that unformed stage of development before he had really begun to express preferences, so it was hard to say simply based on that...but Gabriel was aware that this "senpai" was a very unusual development.
He hated it when Roman was right.
Gabriel gathered up his things and cleaned up after the day's work, sealing down the combination-lock shutter over the vacuum chamber, stowing confidential papers in the safe. He left without a second thought for Richard Vanderbrant and his threats, and locked the door behind him.
The last slanting rays of the day's sun pierced the tinted windows of the parked luxury sedan, glazing the glass from within with molten brilliance. Roman Vaille leaned back, slung across his lover's thighs, and raked his lavender hair back with one hand. "Thank you for dessert," he purred, running ardent fingers down Damon's sweaty chest.
Damon snared him with a strong arm around his waist, making Roman collapse in his sated state across Damon's chest, murmuring with sleepy satisfaction against the crook of the photographer's neck. "Move in with me, River," he said.
Roman grinned fiercely into Damon's neck, settling his hands on the man's hips. "Oh, no. You don't get to try and seduce me away from home while I'm feeling all relaxed and pliant after sex."
"Come on, think about it," Damon rumbled into his ear. "You want to, don't you?" His hand slid caressingly up Roman's naked back.
Roman took these repeated offers as expressions of Damon's love, since he rarely said as much in so many words. They said many things, but neither of them had yet said anything to irrevocably tie themselves to one another. He shifted on Damon's thighs, squirming a bit. One of the reasons he didn't want to was he knew that once he'd moved in with Damon, he would want to be monogamous. He would prove to himself that he could. The way things were, they were simply lovers with no commitments. If he was living with Damon, though...that was a tie to bind themselves together like family, as a real couple.
Altogether, it was something he couldn't articulate to Damon, because he couldn't admit he wasn't faithful to his primary lover on a regular basis. He shook his head a little, fingers curving over Damon's waist, and spoke, his lips vibrating against Damon's skin. "Of course I do. I...I'm just not ready yet. I'm still too young, lover. Can't you wait and ask me when I've graduated from college?"
Damon's arm tightened around him. "I want you too much. You really think I can wait that long?"
Roman rested his head against Damon's neck, snuggling up against him and simply enjoying the feeling of being held. "Please," he whispered, and now he felt guilty. He wondered if some part of Damon knew, and realized, and so that was the reason he kept asking. Damon knew him well enough that perhaps he recognized having River in his home meant exclusive bed-rights. "I know you'll think I'm pathetic, but it's really Cedric who's still too young. A few more years..." Too, if he left now, Cedric and Gabriel weren't really taken care of.
He was morbidly convinced one or the other would let the house burn down some night if he weren't around. Their collective attention span was that great.
"I get it, I do." Damon expelled a frustrated sigh, gusting against Roman's hair. "And I look forward to the day I can have you in my bed every night, you know."
"Hmm." Roman writhed against him luxuriously. He licked the rim of Damon's ear and settled against him again. "Well, then, keep offering me incentives and we'll see how many years you knock off my college graduation." He smirked a bit; he wouldn't rush until he knew the time was right, but somehow Damon's repeated offers satisfied him in a way that only made him feel restless and bored when it was someone else pestering him for exclusivity.
He really did want Damon more than anyone. He just wasn't ready for Damon to be the only one.
Damon's hand skimmed up his back again. "So? What do you think of Psyblade's concepts for the new season?"
"I never knew there was such a big market for track and swim goods," Roman replied literally. He rocked experimentally, but he knew Damon was spent. If they had the rest of the evening before them he might coax it out of him once, twice more, but the only place this car was headed next was the Carrack building.
Roman had a few words to pour into his elder brother's ear.
"Come on, be serious. What do you think of the campaign they outlined?"
"I was being serious!" Roman laughed, squirming. He leaned back to sit across Damon's hips again, kissing him briefly on the mouth. "I just show up for work and put on the clothes they tell me to wear and you make me look pretty. That's enough for me."
"You know," Damon said, sliding both hands low until they rested on his butt, "your biggest secret is that you don't want anyone to find out you're not as shallow as you pretend to be."
"Shh." Roman brushed his mouth over Damon's again. "You're not supposed to tell."
They disentangled at last and gathered up their clothes from the scattered corners of the car. Damon's hazel eyes dwelled on him for a long time, then he leaned back against the car seat and snaked an arm around Roman's shoulders. "So can I get another date penciled into your calendar?"
"Hmm," Roman said, pretending to consider it. "Well, let me check my cell planner..."
Damon laughed. "Don't be an ass."
"Tomorrow we've got a shoot, then the day after you've got proofs. How about Friday?" Roman offered. That way he could have a night with Damon then go to the play with Charlotte and the others before work on Saturday.
"Mm. You don't have family obligations?"
Roman pondered. "Gabriel and Cedric need some bonding time together." He had stopped by home earlier to change, which was fortunate...it might have been a while before he'd managed to meet Cedric's handsome upperclassman. He was going to have to insist that Gabriel have a word with Cedric, unless Gabriel wanted him to do it himself...and he was sure that all parties involved really, *really* didn't want that.
"Friday, then," Damon said, opening the curbside door and holding it open for him. "Can I pick you up at home?"
"Hmm." Gabriel and Damon had the tendency to circle each other like big cats looking for a place to spray, and Roman didn't want it to be him. "Yes, but call up when you get there."
"You just don't want me to meet your little brother," Damon accused.
"He's too young for you, darling," Roman said with a smile, climbing out of the car.
Damon gathered him in with his eyes and they stood close enough to share breath for a moment, wrapped up in mutual sway. "I would have taken you when I first met you, you know."
"Liar," Roman rejoined, leaning against the solid musculature of the man, inhaling the spicy-warm musk of him. Beautiful lie. He would have given himself when they'd first met. It was Damon who'd resisted the pull for two years.
"River? Oh my God is that THE River!?" a female voice screeched from halfway up the street.
"Oh my God, oh my God, he's clinching with some hot guy!"
"Let's go get his autograph! Eeeee!"
"Let's get a picture!"
Roman's head jerked up as panic leaped in his gut. His coloring was far too recognizable, and pictures of him were plastered across a fourth of the billboards in the city. "Oh, shit."
"Get in the car," Damon ordered, fishing keys out of his pocket. "Damn, River, have you ever considered a body guard?"
"Now, why would I want one of those?" Roman asked sarcastically as he slammed the door shut an instant before the eager-eyed girls pounded up to the curb. "Shit. They'll be wanting my underwear next."
"Cedric could make a mint if he sold your used laundry on the iSell net." Damon's profile was set in amused lines.
"Har, har. The boy's a genius but he's not business-savvy, thank God," Roman said sourly, folding his arms over his breast and settling back into his seat.
Damon dropped him off in front of the Carrack building with a kiss and a promise for the next day. Roman looked at the lowering clouds on the far end of the skyline and found himself thinking of Arashi's eyes. The last thing he needed was another challenge but it wasn't exactly as if he could resist it. He wasn't built that way.
As anticipated, Arashi had been ambushed shortly after the last bell. Charming had leapt up from her seat with those sparkling eyes and cut off escape by door so that she could quiz him with a couple of her friends. The blockade had crumbled at a cold look from their new student and a flatly-uttered "You're in the way. I've got to go."
Roman smirked at the remembrance as he let himself into the Carrack building. That really wasn't indication either way, but certainly provided him with the incentive to find out. Arashi, a cold and beautiful storm. The usual approach wouldn't do at all.
The apartment was quiet as he unlocked the door, a resounding silence as if it were empty. "I'm home," Roman called out to the dark hallway, and toed his shoes off in the foyer area. He could wait forever and be uncertain of reply. His brothers would be studying at this time of night -- Cedric, his homework, Gabriel, whatever he'd dragged home from the office that day. Roman was peripherally aware that his older brother occasionally did some important work for a large corporation based on the west coast, but didn't trouble himself with details.
Gabriel's study was the first door on the right, so Roman dropped in on him on his way up the hall. As expected, his older brother was hunched over the desk making notations on a pad beside his notescreen.
He insinuated his hands in a gentle caress beneath loose hair and over Gabriel's nape, circling around to dig into the tension of wire-cabled shoulders. Gabriel sighed and flipped his pad over, blanking his terminal screen before letting his head drop into the impromptu massage. Ah, the top secret stuff again, Roman thought...that tended to get Gabriel excited, albeit in his understated scholarly fashion. Roman leaned forward, brushing his lips against his brother's ear.
"Did I miss anything exciting over dinner?" Before he went to his room, he knew he'd have to tackle Cedric and try to pry more than the monosyllabic from his literal lips.
"Hmm...no. Cedric was reading 'The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization' and I was working on a translation," Gabriel admitted, tone sheepish.
Roman stared at the back of Gabriel's head, hands stilling, then shook his head. "That, right there, is the reason I can't move out," he declared, then resumed the impromptu massage.
Broad shoulders leaned back into his kneading fingers. "What, you were thinking of moving out?" Gabriel prompted, sounding vaguely surprised.
The subject was very much on the top of his brain, Roman realized with a small start. "Damon's only asked me to move in with him about eight times since I turned sixteen," Roman replied. Gabriel's neck cords tensed beneath his hands. "Stop that. I know I've told you this before."
There was silence for a moment as Roman dug into taut tissue with renewed intensity. After a considering interval, Gabriel sighed. "You're too young, but I don't expect you to stay with us forever."
Roman was gratified. That roughly paralleled his own feelings. "That's what I told him, more or less. But it's clear to me that I can't leave the two of you alone until you've both found significant others to care for you."
Gabriel glanced back, meeting Roman's eyes upside-down. "You think we can't take care of ourselves?"
"I think you can't care for yourselves properly," Roman retorted, bestowing a kiss on Gabriel's upturned brow. "Honestly, will you listen to yourself? You worked over dinner and Cedric read something that even someone my age wouldn't read for fun, unless they were socially stunted. Which he is, in case you haven't noticed. Whence my concern. If I left the two of you alone, I'd visit and inside two weeks the place would be moldering and the two of you would have moss growing out your ears."
"Cedric's very conscientious about cleanliness and chores," Gabriel protested. "Everything the maid doesn't do, he takes care of himself."
"Yes, and that worries me too," Roman said with a frown. "He's a little too conscientious. He never acts out or misbehaves. He never has any fun, Gabriel."
Now Gabriel twisted under his hands, swiveling his chair around to face Roman, a solemn frown turning his full mouth down. "Have you been pestering him like this? You know he doesn't enjoy the same things you do, Roman, he's wired differently."
"I haven't," Roman said, exasperated. He tried an old trick and seated himself across Gabriel's thighs, barely managing it. The chair creaked warning beneath them. "But I still think I have cause to worry. He's too serious, Gabriel, he always has been. He doesn't have any friends, he just comes home and reads--"
"Ah, wait," Gabriel said, holding up a hand. "He said today he had someone over--"
"Rukawa-senpai," Roman interrupted in his turn, and his mouth quirked. "We've met. I stopped home to change after school and he was here, in the kitchen."
"Really," Gabriel said with interest. "I couldn't figure how to broach the subject with Cedric over dinner, how--"
"Of course you couldn't! You were both reading!" Roman jeered, throwing his hands up in disgust. "You want to know about Rukawa?"
Pale green eyes nearly the shade of his own narrowed beneath wire-rimmed glasses. "Do tell me," Gabriel invited, expressionless. Danger signals. He'd pushed to just about the limit.
"He's tall, Japanese, black-haired, and very handsome," Roman drawled, hitching back a little. He wanted to be ready to retreat. "And if he's not thinking about plugging our baby boy, he'll start thinking about it soon. So you've got to have that talk with Cedric, Gabriel. I don't care what he's read or how much of it. He needs to externalize it with a frank discussion, and it should come from you."
"Excuse me?" Gabriel blinked owlishly. He seemed staggered by either the content or bluntness of Roman's speech.
"I'm just the slut, brother; I'm sure you don't want me giving him the sex talk." Roman folded his arms. "Once we start down that road I'm sure all the pieces will fall into place and he'll realize what a tart I am. How credible am I, telling him to wait until he's older and by the way, beware of tall handsome seniors?"
Gabriel snorted, then covered his face with one hand. "Roman..."
"No, seriously. Do you want me to attempt to give Cedric the talk?"
One green eye peered at him through the bracket of fingers. "No, I suppose not."
Roman hopped off his lap and dusted his hands together, triumphant. "I'll leave it to you, then." He leaned forward and pressed a butterfly kiss to Gabriel's cheek. "I have homework. I'll slip into bed later, if you don't mind...if it's after midnight and you're not there, I'm coming for you."
"Such threats," Gabriel murmured, but there was a curve to his generous mouth. "Remind me to tell you later about Uncle Richard's visit."
Roman made a face. "Remind me to fall asleep immediately post-coitus."
Gabriel raised a brow at that, but turned once again to his precious translations.
Departing the study, Roman shut the door quietly behind himself and continued for his next destination. He paused in Cedric's half-open doorway. The boy was seated at his desk, directly opposite the door with his back to Roman. His pale head was bent over whatever book he had laid open on the desktop and Roman had to smile at the unconscious mimicry of their older brother. They were two peas, and Roman was the odd one out; he wondered from which side of the family tree he'd sprung. He had known their parents, Carson and Arianna, enough to remember they were more like Gabriel and Cedric than himself.
Soft music was piping from the walls. He identified it after a pause as one of Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suites. It was true that Roman was worried for Cedric; he was so anti-social he might as well be a pod child. Still, this sudden interest on the part of the laconic Rukawa was equally suspect.
"Second day any better than the first?" Roman asked casually, crossing the threshold.
The platinum-pale head lifted. "Yes," Cedric said, half-turning so that one arm lay across the back of his chair. His feet dangled, sockless, over the edge.
Hmm. Roman seated himself on Cedric's bed without asking. Maybe he should read some child psychology books. "Tell me about it," he invited. He remembered something about open-ended questions being the best way to solicit information; a question that couldn't be solved with yes or no.
Cedric tilted his head to the side, Cupid's-bow mouth pursing. "The teachers went over more material than they did yesterday, and actually gave us some real homework. Reading and stuff."
"And?" Roman prompted, gesturing one hand in a coaxing motion.
"Rukawa-senpai came over and sat with me during lunch," Cedric admitted shyly.
"He did?" Both brows shot up. "Does he actually talk when you're together?"
"He talks," Cedric said, frowning at him. "You heard him. Today I asked where he was from, and he said he moved from the West coast out here. His parents speak mostly Japanese at home. So I asked if I could call him 'senpai' and he said yes."
"And that was lunch?"
"Kind of. I asked him that after school," Cedric said, kicking his legs.
Roman's patience was wearing thin, but he hadn't yet gotten all the information he was looking to collect. "How about after lunch?"
"Mr. McCormack held peer elections to pick a class leader," Cedric continued. A flush crossed his pretty face. "They elected me."
"Well, that's great!" Roman said warmly. At last, something normal. "You've been class leader before, huh?"
"Yeah..." Cedric squirmed. "I was never elected so early in the year before. Since it was peer elections I guess it means people like me, huh?"
Roman tilted his head cynically. "You could say that," he replied. He didn't want to let his baby brother down by saying it might have something to do with the fact that his classmates wanted to dump the load on the one they knew to be most responsible. "And after school? How did Rukawa end up in our kitchen?"
Cedric pinked. "I asked him. If he wanted lemonade and sandwiches. 'Cause he's nice and I like him."
"Hmm," Roman verbalized, and left it at that. He was sure Cedric himself might not know what he wanted. "What are you studying? Gabe said he translated and you read all the way through dinner."
"We like to do it," Cedric said simply. "We don't get to do it when you eat at home, so... Hey! Don't call oniisan stupid nicknames, Roman."
"Yeah, yeah," Roman sighed, flipping a hand at him. "You guys are such sticklers. How many times have I said you can call me 'Rome?'"
"River suits you better," Cedric said unexpectedly.
"Huh." Roman scratched below one ear, caught off guard by the compliment. It wasn't often that his brother was so outright cute. He looked at his brother intently, and thought once again that it was definitely time for Gabriel to have "The Talk." The boy was too adorable for his own good. If he could see him like this, then a handsome senior who was closer to his age was certainly suspect. "Uh, thanks. So, how was the result of your chess game?"
"I crushed him," Cedric said matter-of-factly.
Roman's eyes widened. "You mean you didn't lose to let your senpai save face?"
Cedric blinked. "Should I have done that?"
Roman palmed his forehead and smirked. Then again, his little brother had distinctly uncute moments as well. "Never mind. You do what you think is right, baby."
"Don't call me that!"
Laughing, Roman swung his legs up on the bed and crossed them beneath him. If he was going to put off doing his homework, pestering Cedric was definitely a preferred method. No, bonding. That was what he should call it. Maybe he should challenge the boy to a game of chess; it had been a long time since they'd played. "So what are you up to right now? I know you sure can't be doing your homework."
"Oh, no, I finished that hours ago," Cedric agreed. He tilted his head and his fair brows puckered. "Are you hungry, aniki? There's leftover food. If you don't eat it tonight you'll be eating it tomorrow for lunch."
"No, thanks." Roman waved his hands. "I'm stuffed, Cedric. Damon and I ate at the new bistro over on Grand."
"Okay. I'm reading 'The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization' right now. It's fascinating. Did you know that the economy of the North American continent would have imploded with disastrous worldwide results if not for the Rising?" Cedric tucked a leg under one thigh, one hand steadying himself on the back of his chair. His expression was earnest.
Roman marveled at Cedric's appetite for pure knowledge. "Heavy reading," he commented. He was still a little indignant over Gabriel's earlier query -- as if he would pester the boy for his scholastic aptitude! The only thing he wished for was Cedric to be a little more outgoing, but Gabriel was right. No one else in their family was inclined that way; even their grandfather had been what he himself had called an "anti-social old coot."
Cedric's thin shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "Another book I was reading led me to this one."
"Happens that way, doesn't it? You're the only boy I know who reads books with footnotes and appendices full of referenced material." Roman clasped his knees and wondered what sort of probing questions he dared ask about Rukawa. Since Cedric was such an avid reader, perhaps he should just slip him a book about sex...well, no, none of the ones in his collection would do, and he doubted very much that Gabriel had something appropriate.
Cedric looked at him for a moment, then started as if poked. "How was your day, brother?" he asked politely. He was so focused, he sometimes had trouble remembering the social niceties.
Roman waved a hand. "Fine, just fine. Second day is usually pretty boring. We had a new student come to class, though." A grin crept over his face and he just barely restrained himself from adding that the new student was hot. He'd managed to be discreet about his proclivities around Cedric so far. "I'm hoping to get to know him better. Yeah...second day is boring and everyone signs up for extracurricular activities. At least they've stopped bugging me to join clubs or sports; they realize now that being a model comes with a damned busy schedule."
"Do you wish you weren't a model?" Cedric asked curiously.
"No way!" Roman waved his hand again, more vigorously this time. "I wouldn't give up the excitement for anything. I love it. I'd almost quit high school if I didn't know Gabriel would kill me...and Grandfather threatened me, too, you know."
"Grandfather didn't want you to quit high school, huh?" Cedric studied him with the detached curiosity of a scientist. "But you're a very popular model, right?"
"The most popular in the city," Roman said without a trace of modesty. "My work's spread across the continent now, and my agent says I should be getting offers from San Francisco within the next year. I don't know what I'll do about that. Yeah, Grandfather was really big on me finishing my education, you know how he was about that sort of thing...so he tied my inheritance to getting my college degree."
"I didn't know that!" Cedric exclaimed.
"Touche, huh?" Roman grinned tightly. "Yeah, Grandfather was pretty adamant about it, and said that our mom and dad would have been, too. So...you want to play chess, Cedric?"
Cedric's leaf-green eyes seemed to pierce right through him. "You haven't even started to do your homework, aniki," he said, his tone accusing.
Roman scratched at one temple ruefully. "Too sharp. No, and it's early in the semester so why should I care?"
Cedric sighed, the sound exasperated and oddly adult. "I see why Grandfather tied your inheritance to graduation."
"Oh, come on, Cedric, we all know how I'm going to get by in life," Roman said flippantly. Unless Cedric was less innocent than he thought, there was no way he'd get the double entendre in that one. Even if Roman were penniless and had missed out somehow on getting picked up by an agent, there would have been a man like Damon willing to support him.
Cedric's brow puckered again. "Well, you'd be getting the inheritance from our parents at twenty-one regardless of whether you graduated, and I suppose you could live off your earnings as a model quite comfortably until that time..."
"Bingo!" Roman said, pointing his finger like a gun. "I don't really need the old man's money. But I'm doing it out of respect for him, or something...I guess."
Cedric barely smiled. "You loved him, too."
"Of course I did." Roman drew up his knees and folded his arms over them. "It's more than that, I guess. I just don't know what to do with all that money. Maybe if I go through college, I'll have a better idea. It's not like I can just do whatever I please. That much money...it's a responsibility, you know? That's what our Dad said. I want to do good things with it. Kind of like Gabriel working for Orion Corporation."
Cedric regarded him with interest. "I never thought about it that way, aniki," he said slowly. "I guess I've always thought mostly of myself, and our family after that. I...I wouldn't have thought you'd think that way, either."
Roman grinned. "Well, you've got time to grow." He bounced up and ruffled those nearly-colorless bangs beneath one hand, ignoring Cedric's weak squalling. "You and Gabriel, I know you'll do good things with our money. He looks pretty absent-minded but he's already set up a couple of charity trusts, you know? One's a grant board for victims and families of the victims of demon attacks, the other is a yearly merit scholarship for poor students applying for all levels at Vanderbrant."
"I know about those," Cedric piped up. "One is the Carson and Arianna Vaille Grant Foundation, and the other is the Gabriel Scholarship."
"Yeah, you're right," Roman said, ruffling his hair again. Cedric twisted beneath his hand, green eyes snapping up at him. "Gabriel didn't want to name it after himself but our lawyer convinced him otherwise."
Cedric rocked back in his chair. "I know what you're trying to do," he said suddenly.
"Uh?" Roman articulated inelegantly, caught off-guard. He wasn't going to have "The Talk" with Cedric, no way!
"Go do your homework," Cedric said imperiously, pointing a finger at the doorway. "You're smarter than you look, aniki, so it should be easy to keep your grades up this early in the year."
"Yeah, yeah." Roman uncurled himself and rose from the bed with a heavy sigh. "Don't you enjoy talking with your aniki, Cedric?"
Cedric, the little bugger, actually appeared to consider it for a moment. Very uncute. "I like to learn more about you," he said slowly. "You're not usually in a mood like this, to talk so freely about serious subjects. But your studies are important too, and right now you're using me as a diversion!" It was a well-considered reply, and Roman was mollified.
"All right, all right." Roman backed up, holding his hands in a sign for surrender. "I'll go. And we'll talk like this again some time, all right?"
Cedric bowed his head, then when he lifted it to look directly at Roman he actually looked upset. "I wish I could talk like this with Rukawa," he mumbled.
Roman blink-blinked. "With...Rukawa?"
"Yeah," his little brother said, and gripped the back of his chair hard enough to whiten his knuckles. "I'm no good at casual conversation like you, aniki."
For a moment, Roman was worried. Then he bit his lip and stifled the urge to go ruffle Cedric's downy-fine hair again. "Just be yourself, Cedric. That's enough, okay? Chances are he already likes you, or he wouldn't walk you home two days in a row."
Cedric looked up at him, doubt scrawled across his pretty youthful face.
"When you get comfortable with each other it'll be easier to talk," Roman continued, feeling as if he were digging himself into it. He shouldn't counsel his little brother on how to get more at ease with the handsome senior, after all. A boy Cedric's age shouldn't be hanging out with a senior as his sole companion in any case!
"Hmm," Cedric vocalized, then turned around and settled himself firmly in his chair. He said pointedly, "Good night, aniki."
"Ha." Roman smiled, a good deal more tenderly than he would normally be inclined. "Good night, Cedric."
As he headed toward his room at last, his cell phone began to vibrate. Roman unclipped it from his belt as he pushed his door open, kicking aside a tangle of clothes that half-blocked the door and nearly stumbling over a pile of mini-discs and mini-vids beyond that. "River," he answered the line. Since his cell phone was his work number, he always answered it with his career name. He dropped his bag carelessly to one side, landing it on top of a heap of magazines, old paperwork, and textbooks from years gone. After shoving aside some of the clothes scattered over his unmade bed, he dropped onto it and settled himself on one elbow.
"Hey, Roman," a voice panted on the other end of the line. It was Derrek, slightly out of breath with a certain edge to his voice that meant he was almost certainly masturbating.
"Hi, Derrek," Roman acknowledged, and decided that starting with the next one he'd be screening his calls. "You sound like you're having a good time."
"Oh, ha, yeah." Derrek's breathing roughened. "You wanna have phone sex?"
Roman's brows raised, unseen. "Sounds like you got a good head start without me," he said noncommittally.
"Well, just thinking about you makes me hard." On the other end of the line, there came a slight slapping sound as if Derrek had shifted his grip slightly and resumed with even more vigor. "How 'bout it?"
"Sorry, hon, I just got back from a business dinner." Roman smirked slightly, adjusting himself in his briefs. Just because he didn't particularly want to didn't mean he wasn't turned on. It was too bad he was sure Gabriel wouldn't be done with his translations for hours. "I've got homework to do."
Derrek's breathing quickened now. "Skip it," he suggested. "I'll give you copies."
"There's reading, too," Roman reminded him. "All the copies of math and chem won't do me a damned bit of good if I haven't read up on history and English." He thought of Arashi, and suddenly his desire was intensified, as well as the need to compete. Even coming in halfway through the second day of class, the new boy was already familiar with the literature they were reading. Now, there was an incentive to stay caught up.
He would catch Arashi's eye, and for more than just the obvious.
"All right," Derrek said reluctantly. There was a hint of a whine in his voice when he continued, "But what am I supposed to do now?"
Roman laughed shortly. "Is it really my problem? Pick up the latest copy of 'City Fashion,' flip to the men's section, and get yourself off. There's plenty of pictures of me in that one."
"You're kind of cold," Derrek accused.
"It's called being practical, darling. Besides, you knew when you took up with me that I can get it from my boyfriend any time I want," Roman reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah," Derrek grumbled, sounding sullen.
"Say good night, Derrek," Roman told him.
Roman thumbed the phone off before Derrek could try to get another word in edgewise, flipped it shut, and tossed it to the side. He sighed. He hated it when they got...clingy. He was reconsidering the prospect of giving Derrek another go. Maybe in a year after he'd matured a bit.
He considered calling Damon to get the bad taste of that phone call out of his mouth, then decided against it. He didn't want to seem too needy, and Cedric was right. He was using any excuse to distract him from homework.
If he looked hard enough, maybe he would actually unearth his desk after finding his textbooks.