Matt sat with me for a good twenty minutes not saying anything. His eyes were downcast like he was avoiding looking at his peers. He looked like he had one too many beat downs too. I felt for him. But I didn’t have any sage advice so I left it be. I just sat with him. When he was ready to talk he would.
Timothy had glared at me several times in those 20 minutes. Jealousy never looked good on anyone.
Fire brought us all back to camp, after the mile long trek back all the boys were ready to have a warm fire to sit by and were well attentive. All of them got a chance to start a fire and we had warm rations for dinner. Most of the boys went looking around the camp under the instructions – do not eat anything and stay within sight of the fire. Which by now was raging hot. It would stay that way until we went on our hiking trek, but the boys still had several more days of learning how to do things before they would be allowed out on their own.
For some of these boys it was their first time out in the woods, the older boys on the other hand had been out at least once. It was a yearly trip everyone took from the age 13 to the age 17. Their last trip, the year they turned 18 was a different trip entirely – much shorter, but there was no survival training before hand as a refresher, you were dropped in the middle of the woods somewhere and you were told to find your way back to the Boulder HQ. Sometimes we had to go out and retrieve lost souls, they would graduate, but they would never be hunters. Even if that’s all they’d ever trained to be. They would end up with a desk job like Gary – trained to do the work but incapable of being a field hunter. We needed desk jockies.
Until this little excursion that’s what I had been. Dae’lin refused to give me work. Said I needed to process things. Said I was too shook up. Just because I was emotionally compromised didn’t make me useless. I could hunt. I think this was Dae’lin’s way of testing me. I knew Dorian had a hand in it. Or maybe they both wanted me to stop hunting. I don’t know their reasons nor do I really care. I’m out and about doing some of the things I love. I only wish it wasn’t for so long and away from Sage. Life would be so much simpler is Sage where here with me.
Chris and Nate sat down in their bedrolls. Neither of them had set up their tents yet. I hadn’t set up mine either. But then I didn’t bring one. My ability is far more useful than a tent that could become shredded and I didn’t have to carry it.
“You might want to set up your tents. It might rain tonight.”
“Uncle Nox,” Nate said, “You don’t have one.”
I smiled. “I didn’t bring one. I have perfectly good shelter.”
Dylan laughed as he walked by, “You cheat.”
I shook my head. “It’s not cheating. I am using all of my resources to the best possible outcome. A tent adds weight which makes it harder to carry. I’m not as strong as you full Venatori, so I do what I can. My shelter goes with me wherever I go.”
Jerry sat down and said, “Not all of us are Magnus. It’s not fair.” The other boys on the team sat down with us too.
“This isn’t a test of Magnus. It’s a test of survival. I learned how to survive in the AU building. I get hurt if I don’t use my ability. You are stronger, faster, more agile. This is my only advantage.” I wove four balls – one of each element – and juggled them around showing off my ability.
“You call it cheating. I call it surviving.” I said with a smile.
Dylan shook his head as yet another straggler sat down with us around my tentless area. Matt smiled at me and sat down just outside the rest of the group. “You seem to be attracting more than your own team.” Dylan joked.
“Kindred souls and family what can I say.” I grinned at my one time crush. He rolled his eyes as he stood up. He put a hand on Matt’s shoulder and squeezed before leaving.
The rest of the boys followed suit like there was some sort of unspoken words I didn’t hear when Matt had sat down.
We stayed in our respective spots for a while before he moved closer and sat down on the soft ground next to me. At first I wasn’t sure Matt had said anything it was barely a whisper, “How do you do it?” he asked.
I looked at him and frowned. “Do what?”
He waved his hands to indicated my entire body, “This. How do you be gay, be open, and not bothered by the stares you get?”
I chuckled softly. “This is how I hide, Matt.”
“This is hiding?” He frowned and was about to get up. “Fine don’t talk with me.”
I grabbed his hand before he left and tugged him back towards the ground He went willingly. “I speak the truth, Matt. I did this for so long it’s who I became to the outside world. I hide behind the makeup, the hair and the openness about my sexuality. I’m a mess inside. I’ve nightmares every night. The same one over and over again. I’m prone to self harm and extraordinary risk taking. I don’t want to die anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to feel something controllable with self inflicted pain, or put myself at risk so it’s all over. I still have bad days. But I learned to be me, to understand when I feel like that I need to seek help. I have a wonderful boyfriend now who I can count on. That’s a first for me. This is just a mask I wear. You look down at the ground, you don’t meet someone’s eyes – that’s how you hide. I redirect when I hide.”
Matt’s body had visibly relaxed during the small tale of my life. “I know Bob, told you that Tim and I were together.”
I nodded but didn’t say anything. “How do you do it? Be friendly with your ex’s?”
I laughed. “I have no ex’s like that. I have ex-lovers. But I don’t have ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends”
“Then what’s up with you and Dylan?” Matt whispered.
“Nothing. I kissed Dylan when I was 14. He beat the shit out of me afterwards.” I grinned at him, “We’ve grown up since then, we are being friendly.”
Matt moved closer and leaned in, “I saw the way you looked at him. How you avoid looking at everyone else too.”
I laughed and laid back on my sleeping bag. “Matt, Dylan is hot. He will always be hot. His body … yeah, I don’t care how monogamous one is, you don’t ever stop looking Matt. But I avoid looking at anyone in most situations and I have rules. I may be a player, but all games have rules.”
Matt laughed. “Like what?”
“My rules?” He nodded so I continued to answer his question. “No teenagers for starters. No married individuals. If a married couple wants a third that’s different. I don’t do single mothers. I always – always – use protection no matter who I’m with. I’m sure there are others, but that’s the basics.”
“What did your parents say? Mine don’t like this. It’s hard going home on the weekends. They are always trying to set up with some girl.” Matt breathed the last out slowly.
“I didn’t have parents. Dorian is gay so when he saw it, he gave me good advice. Margo she helped me understand what I was feeling without judging. My father though probably didn’t take it well. He found out about me when I was 18. He already hated me before that cause Nick and I got caught kissing, and that whole thing was a big mess. Thankfully Dorian forbid me from seeing him again.”
“Nick’s my half brother.”
Matt’s mouth formed a big O and I grinned. “But it’s all good. Nothing more happened.” I nodded in the direction of the others coming back. “We should probably not talk about this with your other peers around.”
Matt nodded and moved back to the log at the far edge of my area. He smiled brightly at me and his amber eyes glittered in the fire light – something that they hadn’t done since I’d met him. Maybe he’d actually have a good time. I hoped we were on the cusp of at least an understanding.
I am going to call Sage, I need to hear his voice, even if only for a moment.