As others have pointed out, I too reject "token straight friend Rose Walker" and instead give you "bad taste in women Rose Walker"
The first time it happens, Hob doesn't say anything. He doesn't even acknowledge, outwardly, that he noticed it at all. Between the Inn and his teaching job and, oh you know, just several hundreds of years of being around children and young adults, he can confidently say he has at least some modicum of knowledge on how to interact with them.
So, the first time, he doesn't say anything. He's cool like that.
He also doesn't say anything the second time.
But the third time he watches Rose Walker making figurative heart eyes at Johanna Constantine, of all people, he can't help himself. He also can't really pretend he doesn't see Rose so busy gawking that she misses the rim of her glass and splashes cider onto her jumper. She's sitting right in front of him at the bar, after all.
"Doing all right there?" he teases, passing a few napkins across the bar.
Rose grabs the proffered napkins quickly, visibly flustered while she dabs at the damp spot on her chest. "Just, uh, clumsy, I guess."
Hob snorts softly. "Or distracted," he says, lifting his eyebrows when she jerks her head up.
"...I don't know what you're talking about!"
Hob makes a little "sure you don't" humming sound and picks Rose's glass up to wipe it down for her while she deals with her jumper. "It's cute," he insists, even though he knows from experience that most young adults don't like to hear it. And judging from the face Rose makes, she's no exception.
It almost makes Hob laugh -- Dream makes a very similar expression when someone tells him he's cute.
For Rose's sake, he swallows down that particular amusement and sets the cider back in front of her. "It is! But you might want to work on being a smidge less obvious with the staring."
Rose clears her throat, passing the damp napkins back across the bar when he motions for them. "...It's that obvious?" she asks slowly.
"Little bit, I'm afraid," he says, smiling apologetically.
Rose groans at that and drops her face into her hands. Hob only just makes out the muffled, "Do you think she noticed?" that follows.
Hob glances to the corner of the Inn where Jo has roped some sorry sap into a game of darts. It's not going well for the lad if the jeering of his friends is anything to go by. "Mmm...she's a little distracted, so probably not this time."
"This time?!" Rose repeats, lifting her head out of her hands to balk at him.
"You've been very obvious about it, poppet."
"And you didn't tell me!? I can't ever come back here!" Rose hisses.
Hob bites back his amusement -- poorly, judging by Rose's narrow expression. "I promise it isn't that big of a deal."
"What is not that big of a deal?"
The next few seconds are spent by Hob and Rose startling, someone bumping the glass between them in the process, and then both of them frantically trying to catch said glass before it spills more cider over the bar. When the glass is upright again and they turn accusatory stares on the King of Dreams, sitting at the previously empty barstool at Rose's side, his expression is nonplussed if not vaguely amused.
"You know, one of these days you're actually going to give me a heart attack or something. And then you're gonna have to explain to Auntie Death why she's here," Rose points out.
"I will take that under advisement," Dream drawls, more obviously amused by then. And when Hob leans over the bar, he obligingly tips his head a bit to accept the kiss dropped against his temple.
"Hello, love. Please don't give any of my patrons heart attacks at the bar."
"I will endeavor not to," Dream assures him. But the scuffle over the cider has not distracted him, and he repeats, "What is not that big of a deal?"
"Nothing!' Rose says quickly -- too quickly -- before Hob has a chance to deflect with a bit more tact. "Hence, not a big deal," she adds, snatching the glass off the bar and taking a long drink.
Dream watches her for a moment, no doubt taking stock of the damp spot on her jumper and the blustering, before turning to Hob, expectant.
But Hob has not been a snitch for many, many years, and he is not looking to revive that particular character trait this century. He flashes Dream a smile and leans back from the bar, already grabbing a cocktail glass. "How about we try a French 75 today?"
Dream purses his lips, though Hob suspects it has more to do with his question being very obviously ignored and less to do with their ongoing game of "make Dream try a new cocktail every time he comes in until Hob finds one he actually likes."
He hums to acknowledge he heard him, considering the gin he has on hand.
"What are you not telling me?"
Hob grabs one of the bottles. "That I don't think you're going to like the French 75."
He turns his back to fetch the champagne and to hide a grin when he hears an annoyed little huff from the other side of the bar. Dream would deny huffing, of course, so undignified. But he huffed. He was huffy.
"No," Rose says shortly, setting her nearly empty glass back down. "Look, no offense Uncle Morpheus, but it's seriously not a big deal, and it's also not something I wanna talk about. Okay?"
It is not, apparently, okay. Hob can tell the second he turns back around, spots the telltale sheen of emotion in Dream's eyes. Rose probably did too, which is why she's very pointedly looking down at the last of her cider rather than at her Uncle. Because they have come a long way since the rocky start of their relationship, but Hob knows better than most how fiercely Dream wants to nurture this relationship with his niece and nephew, almost despite himself.
And bless him, but jumping straight into teenagers and young adults, nevermind the complications of a crush, is a tall order for anyone, much less the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. He definitely hasn’t had as much hands on time with young humans as Hob. Or if he has, he’s…rusty, to say the least.
"You were comfortable to discuss these things with Hob, but not with me?"
Rose groans outright and turns on her stool, however reluctantly, to face Lord Shaper. "No, actually, I didn't want to be talking about it with Professor Gadling, either. So if we could all stop talking about it and pretend this never happened, that would be great!" she said, shooting a pointed frown in Hob's direction for good measure.
He holds his hands up in as placating a gesture as he can manage with a lemon twist between his fingers, and Dream glances between them for a moment before, with obvious reluctance, inclining his head.
"Very well," he says. "It is not my intention to make you uncomfortable."
"Thank you," Rose says, less terse, and Hob sets another cider in front of her at the same time he passes Dream the French 75. Dream eyes the cocktail with no small amount of distrust and Hob can’t help but laugh.
"Oh, come on, don't make that face before you've even tried it."
"Yeah, they're not bad. If you don't like it, we can switch," Rose offers, and while Dream does not look anymore convinced that he'll enjoy the beverage, or that he'd prefer Rose's cider, Hob can tell some of his proverbial feathers (well, currently proverbial, but sometimes more literal?) have settled.
Heaven help him, but he does so adore this impossible, mercurial creature.
At their encouragement, Dream does eventually take a sip of the cocktail. And while his reaction is not quite as strong as it had been to the martini from last week or the Alabama slammer which, admittedly, Hob had only made as a means of getting Dream to say Alabama slammer, he is clearly not impressed.
"What do you think?" Rose asks, amused.
"It is...palatable," Dream says after a moment, and Rose laughs when he lifts it for another reluctant sip.
"Don't drink it if you don't like it!" she protests, waving for him to put the glass back down, which Dream does with something not unlike relief.
"Starting to think gin might not be your thing," Hob says, glancing over when the bell over the door jingles. He smiles and waves a hand that way. "See? Cor can use the door."
"Didn't you say he broke into your apartment through a window last month?" Rose asks, smirking when Hob shushes her.
But, by that point, Corinthian is close enough to hear. And to reach around Dream to pluck the French 75 off the bar. "And guess who finally got the damn locks on his windows repaired after that?"
"That is not a good reason for breaking into my flat!" Hob protests.
"It's a perfect reason for breaking in! I could've stabbed you in your sleep!" Corinthian argues.
"You have stabbed me in my sleep!"
Corinthian chuckles over the cocktail, half draped against Dream's side, who shifts subtle to make room for him there. "I have done that," he agrees.
"You've what?" Dream says, turning a frown on Corinthian who waves a dismissive hand.
"Metaphorically," he lies, before sidestepping out of the conversation by leaning around Dream again to flash a smile down the bar. "Well, hey there, Rosebud."
Rose, whose attention had drifted back in the direction of the darts game -- new bloke trying his hand now and losing just as spectacularly -- turns quickly back around. "Hey! Where's Jed?"
"Dropped him off at the movies with a couple friends."
Rose frowns. "...What movie?"
"One that I'm certain Jed and his friends were able to buy tickets to themselves, of course," Corinthian says breezily. Rose narrows her eyes a little further.
"If Jed has nightmares all week, it's gonna be your fault."
Corinthian makes a little noise of disagreement over his drink, and Hob starts wiping down the bar to keep himself useful while they bicker. And to avoid letting Dream pull him into any further interrogation about the whole stabbing thing.
"Technically, that would be My Lord's fault, wouldn't it?" Corinthian says, motioning at Dream between them, whose suspicious expression has not wavered.
Rose rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean!"
"Uh huh. Didn't know you were so into darts, Rose."
Hob pauses his cleaning to glance up between them, Rose visibly flustered and Corinthian's eyebrows lifted high above his sunglasses while he sips Dream's drink.
"What?" Rose eventually says, and Hob doesn't wince but it's a near miss. Poor thing, she's usually better toe to toe with Cor in one of his more meddling moods.
"You know what I mean," he drawls, and Rose snatches her cider up to chug. Again.
Rose knows what he means. And Hob knows what he means, even if he's not entirely sure how Corinthian himself knows. But Dream, sitting between the three of them, clearly does not, and he misunderstands rather wildly.
"Would you care to play darts, Rose Walker?"
"That's a great idea!" Corinthian insists while Rose coughs around her drink. "That gal in the corner seems like she's pretty good, I bet she could talk you through the rules."
And then Dream turns his head and his attention alights on the darts game already happening. "Johanna Constantine is here?" he asks, looking back to Hob for confirmation.
"She's a regular these days, yeah," Hob says, and he'd argue that Dream doesn't stand from the stool so much as he pours himself from it, too liquid in his movements for the human shape he wears.
"Then I shall have to introduce you, Rose," he insists, and Rose only manages a token, squeaked protest before Dream is ushering her towards the darts game.
Hob swats Corinthian with the towel he'd been wiping the counter with. "That wasn't necessary," he points out, trying very hard to tap down on his own amusement.
"Sure it was! This way Dream can figure it out himself, and then he can be the one to tell her there's no way in hell we're gonna approve her trying to date Johanna fucking Constantine."
Hob laughs despite himself and leans against the bar, smiling when Corinthian takes up Dream's abandoned stool to meet him halfway. "She is a grown woman, you know. We can't stop her from trying to date who she likes."
"We can sure as hell try."
"We can do that," he agrees, leaning in to return the quick, sharp kiss Corinthian dips in for. "Does he know how to play darts?" Hob asks, glancing towards the corner when Corinthian leans back.
"I have absolutely no idea."
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Hi, yves., it's yves. again. Could we get something, anything, with the side characters from KAY? Or maybe even the main characters from KAY? I really just want a double bingo and some problems, thanks. (-yvesdot)
Sure! I didn't enjoy writing the Constantine and Ariel one, though. I mean, that was like pulling teeth. Why did we do that?
KAY - ARRANGED MARRIAGE / RIVAL KINGDOMS
Atlas watches Kay from a distance first. She sits in a window alcove, her feet tucked up beside her, looking out at the snow swirling outside. Her chiffon stole slips, along with the train of her layered periwinkle dress, off the side of the ledge and onto the ground. She has a sharp face; long-lashed dark eyes set in darker expressions. She always looks a little strange in her clothes—she clearly does her own lacing, somehow. Today her hair is impeccably restrained by not only a bow but another length of blue chiffon. When Atlas has had enough of staring at the perfect cast of her mouth, he steps out into the hall, sweeping his cape out of the way.
Kay looks up the moment he makes a sound, taking the same visual inventory she does every day. What is it about him that makes her look at him that way? Is it his size; his height—mostly the boots? The all-black clothes? Or does she just hate him? He kneels beside the alcove, letting his frilly blouse take up a little of her arm room.
“What do you think, Princess?” he asks. “Is this going to solve everything?”’
Kay looks back outside the window, like his questions are beneath her.
“Good thing we’re straight cis people,” Atlas comments, examining the rings on his hands. “That’ll make this easy for both of our families.”
Kay makes a sound that might be a laugh. When Atlas stands, his boots scrape against the tile of the hall, echoing through the empty space.
“Hey,” he says, “do you have some kind of problem? I don’t dislike you. In fact—” He lifts her chin gently, with one hand. “I think you’re very pretty.”
“I could not care less whether you are attracted to me,” Kay says, glaring up at him. “The problem is that I am attracted to you.”
“Great,” Atlas says. “That makes perfect sense.”
And to stop her from adding anything else, he kisses her. She wraps her arms entirely around him, so that he has to bend down to keep from lifting her up. Soon they are wrapped up in each other, Kay’s hands at the lacing of Atlas’s cape and his in her hair, their breath fogging up the window only slightly, so that when Atlas pushes Kay up against it she starts at the chill. He swallows her gasp, pulling the ribbons out of her hair. He gets as far as one hand in the off-the-shoulder collar of her dress before she pulls away, making some inarticulate sound of pleasure.
Atlas takes one of Kay’s thin hands in his and drops a pearl ring into it.
“Consider it?” he asks, politely. He is sitting half in and half out of the alcove, one foot up beside Kay and one resting on the floor.
“Neither of us have any choice,” Kay says. Atlas lifts and lowers one shoulder, kissing her cheek.
“Thanks, Princess,” he murmurs, standing up. He adjusts his cape slightly before walking away. “See you later.”
✱ Kay’s outfit looks something like this with a lighter petticoat and the aforementioned stole. Atlas is wearing something like the black ouji outfit pictured here, though of course he’s also buff and whatnot. (Scroll down in both cases to see photos.) I wanted to find the perfect cape for him, and honestly, I didn’t succeed. Kay’s hairthings don’t exist in physical reality, either.
KAY (Glinda) - SOULMATE / ROAD TRIP / ROYALTY
I really really really like Glinda, and all of these prompts suited her, and I won't even get to write her until Book Two. Enjoy.
Glinda clicks away from the Moi-Meme-Moitie tab and returns to the forums, scrolling aimlessly. She tries the new posts category and opens Your Experiences Dating?, which is from the last week and is fully unread.
The original poster is someone named JenniK, marked Transgender - Female, Bisexual.
Hi, guys & dolls: how do YOU find accepting people to date? Or don’t you? Am going on five years single but can’t figure out how to put myself out there. Pass okay (in the right lighting, haha) but it just seems so complicated.
LadyLake (Transgender - Female, Heterosexual) responds:
Hmmmm, to be honest I’m not really sure. I have been with my boyfriend (also trans) for so long, and we met almost by accident. We both had ‘trans’ on our MySpace!!
Mari614 (Transgender - Female):
To be honest, I am in the same boat as you. After I came out to my wife, we both knew it was a ‘no-go’, so I have been single for a while. Hoping this thread has some good advice in it.
K1Fan (Transgender - Male, Questioning):
Sorry to hear that, Mari614. I also can’t give advice, for the opposite reason—have been in a relationship since before I knew I was trans, and my boyfriend doesn’t mind (he is bisexual). The main issue for me has been the fact that we can’t get married if I change my gender marker, so I am still deciding that.
frozeninside (Transgender - Female):
like i’ve said in other threads, i am married, but my wife doesn’t know! someday will work up the courage to tell her, i hope.
FlyWalker (No Gender Listed):
I met my current wife on the forums :) I know a lot of transsexual people meet their partners online, like LadyLake said. Maybe online is for you? @TwoPages where did you meet your partner?
TwoPages (Transgender - Female, Homosexual)
There’s never any other discussion on these forums, is there? Unfortunately, that relationship is over; it was also under such specific circumstances I’m afraid I can’t advise JenniK either. My only thoughts on the subject are that I would only be with someone who knew me completely (that is to say—not to date ‘stealth’ or while closeted), and I have been very careful with whom I have told. Of course, I seem to have a conflicted relationship with ‘passing’, so that no doubt informs my experience.
FlyWalker (No Gender Listed):
Gah—sorry, Page! Still, I think you gave good advice :) Hope you’re doing okay.
The other thing I just thought of is meetups. Our forum topic In Person Meetups is usually busy enough. There’s one happening in your area, Page, if you want the info: it’s in this thread. And maybe JenniK can find a partner there too :)
TwoPages (Transgender - Female, Homosexual)
Thank you, FlyWalker; that’s very helpful. Don’t worry about not knowing. I haven’t mentioned it.
Glinda hits the bottom of the page and stops. She flips her braids over her shoulder again and sits back. In the comment box, she types:
I haven’t dated since I began my transition, but I wouldn’t say I had bad luck dating beforehand, either. Usually I would tell girlfriends that I had special ‘rules’, and if they asked why I would just admit I was strange. I figured: we all have our preferences. In my experience, cisgender women are often willing to put up with a lot of ‘preferences’. It helps that I was more of a giver than a receiver :) Also, they thought I was a nice boy. It probably doesn’t seem like it after this post, but I am very shy in person.
Maybe I only dated women who were naturally kind, but it’s possible you will find someone who is as accepting, once they care about you. I think coming out is half the problem… it would be easier if any potential partner knew I was trans, but of course, not as safe, right?
She leans back, tapping her black-painted fingers on the keyboard.
TwoPages, I think I’m in your area. (I saw your thread about clothes shopping, but like I said there, I’m too into fashion subcultures to help you look like a normal person. I hope you got the help you were looking for—I saw FranniePie said she would meet up with you.) Maybe we should both go.
She looks over her post, bites a nail, and wonders if that looks suspicious in a dating thread. She doesn’t know what she could say that would make it less suspicious, though, and referencing their ages only makes it seem creepier. Alternatively, she could just be quiet, which is attractive but no longer possible after she spent fifteen minutes agonizing over this post in the first place. Besides, she should go outside. So she hits post. Her signature glitters encouragingly.
Then she reads through the meetup thread—it’s something fairly generic for Trans People And Their Loved Ones—and wonders how in the world she is going to get there, because apparently FlyWalker doesn’t realize how large a state can be (and how bad the bus routes can get). Glinda takes out her phone and texts a road trip-friendly fashion meetup friend with a pink car. The friend is not really trans aware, only Glinda aware, but that might be enough. Anyway (Glinda promises over text) they can get coffee.
She waits a few seconds to look over her text messages and then returns to the forums. Upon refreshing the page, there’s a new message:
TwoPages (Transgender - Female, Homosexual)
I’m not sure whether I’ll go, TheGoodWitch, so I don’t want to get your hopes up.
P. S.: Your response was very helpful, though I probably ought to delete that thread before it becomes incriminating. It seems to be making everyone think that I dress like some kind of paratrooper.
Glinda laughs softly. It did sort of seem like that. Glinda went crossdressing-first into being trans, though, so it’s not really fair of her to judge—sometimes she sees posts from girls who make it sound like they spent their whole lives as some other species before emerging as human. She considers saying that, but it’s not dating-related, and she’s derailed this random person’s thread enough. When she refreshes the page just in case, though, someone’s added a long story about how they met their partner, so she doesn’t feel as guilty saying Don’t worry about it! and even considers adding an emoji.
Her phone pings: I’m in! She hits post on her laptop and turns back to her phone to see another message: Wear the AATP Princess Aldiwa coord!! I want to see you go FULL FAIRY PRINCESS. She grins and sends back: I’m never not a fairy princess; what are you talking about?
So that’s it.
She rubs at her eyes. She didn’t even check the date.
KAY (Constantine & Ariel) - GHOST / MODERN OR HISTORICAL?
This came out of an idea to debate modern vs classical dueling, but, well, it makes no sense if you don't know what a parry dagger is... Ariel, of course, is ghostly in the sense that he is MIA in canon. The Rainier family doesn't know whether he's dead or alive, having not been in contact with him for a while, and being a Rainier seems to be hazardous to one's health... but then again, maybe that's why he left.
Constantine is a bad fencing partner. Ariel needs one, obviously, if he wants to make the team, but he doesn’t like inviting people to his house and likes even less requesting permission to go to someone else’s house. So while the other guys are practicing second intentions and blade-beating and evasive movements that look like yoga, Ariel is poking his sword at his older brother, who forgets right of way and keeps crossing his feet when he needs to step back.
“You’re doing it again,” Ariel says, removing his mask to shake out his hair. “You’d be disqualified for that in a tournament.”
“It’s too much to remember,” Constantine protests. He never looks quite as small as when he’s wearing Ariel’s spare fencing jacket and mask. All that white just makes his eyes look like a cartoon character’s behind the grille.
“We have an outside broom, and an inside broom, and a spare broom, and you know where all of them are,” Ariel reminds him.
Constantine frowns. “Yes, well, I live here. I should know.”
Ariel shrugs, but puts his mask back on and assumes position.
“Your feet are wrong,” he calls over to Constantine. “Do it like you’re making a box.”
“Making—what? This is how you’re standing.”
“Your whole front’s open. Stand sideways—” Ariel exaggerates the pose a little— “so that I have a smaller target.”
Constantine grumbles something but boxes his feet. Ariel tries a feint and Constantine does not even attempt to block it. So how is Ariel supposed to practice his feints? He tries doing it all in slow motion, but it’s not the same; he can never get a hit in against the fencing team captain. Andrew.
Ariel whacks Constantine in the head.
“Your point,” Constantine says.
“You’re not even trying!”
“I’m trying! I’m boxing my feet!”
“Well, try blocking! Look—” And Ariel lunges. Constantine starts moving out of the way about three seconds too late. “I need to practice. I could do this against a tree trunk.”
“Then do that! I don’t want—”
“No, come on, please!” Ariel walks over to Constantine and corrects his stance. It’s not Constantine’s fault that he is short and kind of useless, Ariel thinks. He’s just scholarly, and Ariel has to be patient with him. Also, he’s holding the sword wrong again, like it’s a lightsaber. Ariel fixes that too, and then the way Constantine’s jacket is clipped. “There. Now pretend we’re in the Olympics.”
“I’m not going to pretend—”
“Then pretend I’m going to kill you. I will kill you if I don’t make the team.”
Ariel can’t see Constantine’s face properly through the mask, but this close, he can tell Constantine has considered saying something and thought better of it. Then he opens his mouth again.
“This isn’t useful for self-defense,” he says.
“What?” Ariel steps back, bouncing his sword impatiently in his hand.
“Nobody is going to challenge you to a duel,” Constantine says. “Nobody is going to fence you if they want to kill you. This is useless.”
“Not surprised you can’t appreciate the fine art of a gentleman’s duel,” Ariel comments, and he’s standing a little too far back to see if Constantine rolls his eyes. He probably does, though. “Now, try to keep your hand out of the way when I come at you. Nobody would have their arms out like a duck at the Olympics.”
Constantine assumes his stance again, seeming a little improved this time, and Ariel baits him around a little bit before lunging and whapping him in the left arm, again.
“You’re so bad at this!” Ariel is laughing, removing his mask, but when Constantine pulls his off his face is flushed with anger. “Oh, come on, Connie—”
“Don’t call me that!” Constantine flings his sword to the ground, and then, without warning, he flings himself at Ariel. Ariel’s never fought someone before. He has no idea what to do, short of hitting the ground. After that it is all trying to keep Constantine off of him. “Do you have any idea,” Constantine shouts, trying uselessly to pummel Ariel, “how hard it is to be your brother?”
They roll over on the ground, once, and then again, so that Constantine is above Ariel, and Ariel is just trying to keep Constantine’s hands out of the way.
“What,” Ariel pants, “are you talking about? You’re older than me. Everyone expects me to be like you. You know—they see my last name in roll, and they say, Ariel, Constantine’s brother—”
“You know what they say about me?” Constantine yells. “‘Does Andrew think you’re cute, too?’”
Ariel stops breathing.
“Your fencing captain,” Constantine spits. “Thinks. That. You. Are. ‘Cute’. Apparently. As I have been told only a dozen times within the past week.”
There has to be a response that will get him out of this. Surely anyone else would process this information differently. Ariel knows, even as the seconds are passing, that it is too late, and he has lost his chance to give any defense. And as he is wondering what exactly it is that he has to defend, Constantine points a dagger at his throat. It’s his personal one; the one with RAINER engraved on the blade.
“I could kill you,” Constantine spits. “Think twice before you laugh at me, Ariel.”
He gets up. Ariel, lying on the ground with a hot, grass-scented breeze in his nostrils, searches for something to do. He finds himself laughing, again.
“You hid it in your sleeve!” he cries, putting his hands to his face. “That’s why—that’s why you shake with the ungloved hand after the match! So your opponent can’t stab you! It’s practical!” This is the funniest thing in the world to Ariel, as Constantine flings his gear on the ground and walks inside, holding the dagger backwards, but once he’s gone, it doesn’t seem funny at all.
Ariel makes the team, and thus doesn’t have to kill Constantine. He considers bringing something up with Andrew—you know, don’t make fun of me, I might be a freshman but I’m not that small, and it’s embarrassing my brother, because the other guys are messing with him—but can’t find any way to approach it. He even wonders, for a fleeting, painful moment, whether Constantine could have made it up. Could have thought of the only thing that would have had Ariel speechless. And though that kind of cruelty, or in fact planning, seems beyond Constantine, the fact that he noticed—that he took advantage of it—Ariel is nauseated by the humiliation.
He looks across the gym, where Andrew is running Frisbee drills with a handful of latecomers. They’re not wearing any gear, just holding swords, and a thin triangle of sweat stains Andrew’s tank top. He stops for a moment to adjust his ponytail, pulling the scrunchie off and wrapping it around his wrist, and before he can catch Ariel looking, Ariel turns on his heel and walks out of the gym, into the searing sun.
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