It involves the characters also found here (in order first-last):
It had begun with a kiss.
Which was, of course, a lie, the sort of lie the poets told, even now, with the world over for so long it was becoming a new world.
It had begun with a look and a smile. It had continued over the course of two years with more looks, and more smiles.
It had begun with an interest that was, if nor strictly forbidden, certainly frowned upon strongly. Tess was older than Thomas, four times his age when he came to the school. She was the Dean and he a novice. She was a grandmother and he a young, strapping man: good breeding stock, when she was past breeding.
It had begun with him shouting, and her scolding. It had begun with him questioning, questioning everything, and her answering, calmly, from the mandates of her people, from the charter of the Library, from the teachings she, too, had once questioned.
It had begun with an argument, with many arguments. The kiss was simply a way-point along the way.
Still, it was quite a kiss. Tess had not had a chaste sixty-two years, and Thomas, it seemed, had been paying attention to more than just books in his studies. The kiss was hot, their hands firm on each other’s shoulders, their breath nearly silent.
The sirens provided cover when their silence was not enough; the thick chairs, built to last centuries, provided a visual screen. Thomas’ fellow students, hiding, too, as the raid protocol demanded, provided the rest by politely looking anywhere else. It was possible that they had known this was coming longer than Tess and Thomas themselves had.
“Well.” When she could breathe, Tess sat back on her heels. “That…”
“Shall we catalogue it?” The boy smirked at her. “List it under ‘Embraces, unexpected and forbidden?'”
“You enjoy teasing me, don’t you?” Tess found she didn’t have any desire to get angry with him.
“I enjoy poking at the system. You are, as Dean, part of the system, of course.” He quirked an eyebrow in her direction.
“Poking, mmm?” Now it was her turn to raise her eyebrows. “Is that what you had in mind?”
“It might have been. Although, truth be told, the kiss was further than I thought I would get.” He tilted his head, peeking out towards the door. “The sirens are still going.”
“Then the guard has not yet turned them off. If they trigger the secondary sirens, then we will have to fight.”
“I know how to fight, at least.” He rolled his shoulders. “And if the sirens go off with no fight, then what, Madame Dean?”
“Then we go back to our classes.” She said that, at least, with all the firmness that her age and experience gave her. “And then-” He had raised his eyebrows, which was amusing. “-then you attend me in my office, when your classes are done for the day.”
“For discipline?” He was clearly teasing her as much as she was him. “Have I, then, been a disobedient student? Naughty?”
“When have you not been, Thomas?” She smirked at the boy. “Attend me in my office. We will go from there.”
“Ma’am.” From his kneeling position under the table, he bowed. “As you wish.”
She wondered, briefly, did he see that movie? Then she remembered, with a stab of something like pain in her chest, that movies, and the casual watching of such around the living room, with microwave popcorn and a polyester blanket – all of that was gone, lost in her memory and the minds of those as old as she was.
“I wish it.” It was easier that remembering exactly how much time separated them.
The sirens silenced, and they did not need, that day, to fight. Tess handed over her classes to an adjunct, and spent the afternoon cataloging damages, taking notes on the prisoners they had captured, and planning notes and pensions for those guards too injured to continue as guards, and letters and fatter pensions for the families of the two who had died in the attack.
She caught sight of Thomas twice. The first time, he was helping, with his medicine class, to attend to the lightly wounded guards. The second time, he was speaking with one of the wild-tribe women who had been captured. He spoke softly, and his hand was near the woman’s dirty one. Tess squelched the feelings like jealousy that rose up in her; this was not an appropriate time for such things. She had families to visit, and condolences to give.
Those condolences were still fresh on her lips and heavy on her heart when Thomas brought himself to her office.
They left her in less than a receptive mood to his cockiness; she turned, ready to be stern and short with him, only to find him looking every bit as solemn.
It shook her foundations. She stepped back, making the move into a gesture inviting him to sit. She had not come this far without learning to cover for her gaffes.
“You wanted to see me, Madame Dean?” He took the seat she offered, every inch the suave gentleman, if you paid no heed to the tightness of his voice or his face.
“I did. She folded her hands on her desk. It gave her an appearance of gravitas, if not the actual feeling of such. “I wished to discuss your future with this institution.”
He bowed from his seat. “I knew there would be a reckoning.”
That had not been the response she’d expected, but, then again, very little Thomas did fit within her expectations. “And yet you did it anyway.”
“And yet I did.”
“Wh… no.” She shook her head. “Now is not the time, as curious as I am.”
“If you’re going to send me away, Madame Dean, there won’t be another time.”
Tess pursed her lips. “Fresh from today’s raid and its consequences, I don’t think either of us are interested in kissing at the moment, Thomas, or in its reasons. Unfortunately for us, we will need to deal with the consequences.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “And so you will send me away.”
“No.” She leaned forward over the desk and dropped her voice. “And so we will discuss how to best keep you here without sullying either your reputation or mine.”
She had the dry pleasure of seeing him, for once, surprised.
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