"He's dying."

Robin paused on her way past the two humans. Dying? That caught her attention. Staying invisible to human eyes, she floated after the young women.

"Shame, too. He's kind of cute."

Chloe wrinkled her nose. "Uh, only if you like the scrawny ones."

It was a moment before Millie asked, "So what happened?"

Chloe sighed and shifted the laundry basket in her arms. "Derek, Aston, and Caden played a joke on him."

"Wait," Millie interrupted. "Derek's the new mage, right?"

Chloe nodded and her blond curls bounced. "Aston and Caden came here last spring." She drew in a breath. "So Scott was going to test up another level and they thought it would be funny to take away his energy, so he couldn't do it."

Millie shrugged. Not particularly funny, but the both of them were a few years older than the teenagers. "How does that make him dying?"

"The three of them screwed up the spell and took away almost all of his energy." Millie gasped. "Yeah. So they're locked in their rooms while we see if Scott lives." Chloe shook her head. "But Neiley told me that the head healer from the college was here and said that he wouldn't last the night."

The two women turned the corner and had a change of subject at the same time. Something about what they were going to have for dinner. Robin wasn't interested.

But a man dying? That wasn't right to her. She went to find out more. First, the rec room for more gossip.

MMM

Scott kept his eyes closed. Every so often he could hear the sound of a page being turned by Neiley.

He'd tried to tell her that he'd be all right alone, but she'd been told by the head of clan to stay.

He sighed. He really wished she'd leave. Then maybe he could cry.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Graduating high school and going to college was supposed to be better.

Instead, he'd gone from one place to another with the same problem.

He'd given up the idea of having his own laptop after returning to college after Christmas break. The computer he'd brought with him at the beginning of the semester had been trashed within the first month. The laptop that had been a Christmas present had suffered the same fate.

So he used the computer labs and hid the flash drives he had.

His clothes were usually left alone, but his bed had been short-sheeted a few times. Soap and shampoo had been switched out a few times. Plus the shoves, pushes, hands 'helping him down the stairs'.

Derek had talked about joining a clan. Most mages in college did before they graduated and were assigned to a clan. They provided a sense of family, of everyone being a mage and the same, help when it was needed.

Derek was a good roommate. If he hadn't been there, it would have been worse. He didn't shove at Scott. Mostly left him alone, even.

Being in a clan meant not living on campus. There would be adults there, someone to make sure that he wasn't hurt. It had to be better than living in the dorm with a bunch of teenagers and one RA per floor.

Derek got him the information, Scott signed it, and they both entered the clan on the same day. Scott suddenly had his own room. No one really seemed that interested in him, but that was okay.

Plus the clan had an exercise room with a stationary bike. He hadn't brought his bike with him to college, because he didn't know if there would be a place to store it. He ended up being really glad about not having it there. It would have just been another thing that someone would have stolen or broken.

Sure, the college had exercise equipment. In a large room with posted hours both early and late. But Scott was too smart for that. Early or late in the room meant that no one would be there. When someone found out his schedule and where he was going, he'd be trapped in a room without anyone supervising them. He'd get hurt.

Too many people was just as bad. No one could pay attention to that many people at once.

Two weeks of private showers, no jokes, no one pushing him, sleeping at night without someone banging on the door... It was great.

There was still classes on campus, but he knew the paths where not many people walked. Library hours, the places to duck into when someone was coming.

Then he'd walked into his assigned lab at the clan's house and it felt like he couldn't breathe.

He'd passed out.

When he came to, the sad eyes of a healer told him that his energy had been drained to a point that was irretrievable. If the spell had drawn his energy into something, it could have been returned to him, but...

He was going to die.

The head of the clan had personally come to see him after Scott had spoken to his parents. Gerald had patted him on the shoulder and said all the right things. That the boys responsible would be punished.

Scott doubted it. He fell through the cracks. When someone played a joke on him, nothing happened to the other people.

He sighed again. He was going to die. Soon. Shouldn't he be... doing something? Feeling something other than wanting to be alone?

MMM

Robin examined the room. An invisible hand traced over the few books on the small bookcase. Patted the blue plaid blanket on the twin bed. Peeked at the toiletries in the bathroom.

Not much around the room even if he'd only been here two weeks. Not even a TV.

She considered the brown-haired boy in the bed. Skinny, yes. Attempting to be peaceful and not drawn attention to himself.

The talk around the clan was that one of their new members was going to die. No one really seemed to care, other than having something new to gossip about.

Was it really that hopeless to them? And if he was dying, why wasn't there someone here that wanted to talk to him while they still could?

No, the only people in the room were Scott, Neiley, and Robbie. Robbie was Neiley's familiar, so he didn't even choose to be there for Scott's comfort.

Robin frowned. This... She objected to this.

She was more than powerful enough to save this one. If she wanted to. And the more she found out about this timid and wary man, the more she wanted to know more about him.

MMM

"I will watch."

Neiley looked up from her book to see a fluttering white sleeve in front of her. A very young familiar then. "I'm sorry, Familiar. I've been tasked by the Head of the Clan," she said politely.

"Send your familiar to him with a message. I will watch Scott."

"Familiar, it isn't a problem for me to watch." She was told to be here and here she would be. Even if she didn't know Scott, it was... right to be here. No one should be alone to die.

Though, she wondered why his friends weren't here. He had to have some on campus, didn't he?

Robin shook her head. She needed privacy. A quick plan later, she disappeared.

She reappeared minutes later. A note dropped down to Neiley's book. Robin already knew it was permission from Gerald for Neiley to leave.

The young woman left after saying good-bye to Scott. No hug, just a spoken good-bye.

Robin drifted to rest on the edge of Scott's bed. His eyes were open and focused on this new person. "You like Edgetson's work."

"Yes."

"Do you find the fact that all his books are set in the spring curious?"

Scott's eyes brightened. Someone to talk to about a subject he knew very well. A distraction from what was coming. "Yes, but he's said it's his favorite season."

MMM

Robin had engaged the teenager in talk for the past hour and a half. Nineteen yes, but teenager still. Books, movies, what gossip Robin paid attention to.

What was revealed by all the conversation was a bright young man who thought. That was rare enough that it interested her.

He saw underneath what was openly said. He contemplated the motives of the people around him.

Unfortunately, he thought that everyone he met saw him as an obstacle or something to be ignored. Or a source of entertainment.

From what she had seen of this clan's involvement, he might be right.

Time to see if he was what she wanted. If he was worth taking another.

"You're going to die soon."

Scott winced. That was a blunt subject change. "Yes." He didn't know how he was still awake. He felt so tired...

"Do you want to?"

Scott shook his head. "No."

Promising. "Do you think you will be better off if you do die?"

That made him hesitate. His parents had been tearful and had sworn that they would get there before he died, but they lived two days drive away. Instead, the head of the clan had promised to take care of his body until they arrived.

They wouldn't be okay.

This clan wasn't... all he had expected. It seemed like he had been picked on his whole life. No one really interested in him or a friendship extended to him for more than a year or two. He was boring or so most people said.

"Maybe."

Robin considered the brown-haired young man for a moment. "You're young, though. People change their minds many times." She let the white sleeve flutter a bit. "What would you do if you could do anything? Go anywhere?"

Scott frowned. "Um... I'd visit some of the libraries I've never seen before."

"And?"

"Art museums?"

"And?" She would prod him for answers until the last minute if she had to.

"Eat food I've never had before. England's fish and chips. Japan's sushi."

"What else?"

He filled her ears with ideas. Write a book. Go to the tropics and see water that was different than the Atlantic ocean. Touch a starfish.

It was half an hour before Scott wound down. Robin allowed the sleeve to move against his hand. "That doesn't sound like you want to die."

"I... guess not." Huh. What a time to find that out. Not that he'd really thought about killing himself, but to find out that he had plans for his life when he was about to die? Bad timing.

She liked him. She hadn't had this level of interest in someone in a very very long time. "If I was able to do something, would you let me?" she said carefully. "Accept a familiar?"

Scott would have reared back if he could. "But you're a beginning familiar. You're not even able to hold a shape yet."

"That's why I said if." He had to be able to accept her as she appeared, not as what she was.

Scott swallowed. "I don't want you to hurt yourself."

"I won't. If it came to a decision between your life and mine, I would choose mine." At least in this, she thought. If you intrigue me enough to take another mage, then I've already chosen.

Well... It meant something to him that someone was willing to try. If she wouldn't hurt herself, then maybe.

Scott nodded his head. "If it won't hurt you."

"It won't. Say you accept me as a familiar."

Scott repeated her words and she began. The touch of a sleeve to his hand began pouring energy into him.

Scott felt his back arch, then blackness.

MMM

Robin stayed with Scott all night. She had replenished his energy levels easily. As his familiar, a few more things were possible that hadn't been before.

She rose as the morning dawned. She was going to find out where the three that had hurt her mage slept.

MMM

Scott rolled over to hide from the light coming through the windows. He grunted a little at the idea of morning. Morning meant classes and sneaking around. Ugh, and breakfast with the rest of the clan ignoring him.

Then his eyes flew open. I'm alive?

He glanced around the room. Same room. Didn't seem like heaven.

A note was held down by a glass of water on his nightstand. He propped himself up and reached for it. Scott read the note while he leaned back against the white pillows.

Scott, it read. Drink the water I left for you, then go to breakfast. I'll see you there shortly. -Your Familiar

Huh. He had a familiar. He was alive.

Two impossible things and it wasn't even breakfast. Scott grinned to himself.

He really needed to call his parents and tell them that it was a false alarm.

MMM

Gerald's eyes widened as Scott walked into the large dining room and took a seat at the long table. He's alive. The healer was wrong. He's alive. "Scott."

The young man looked up. "Head Gerald?"

"I-"

Ivette smiled at her husband, then at Scott. "How do you feel, Scott?"

"Fine."

Ivette nodded. Stranger things had happened than a teenager recovering from a spell that should have killed him. "Do we need to call a healer?" Scott shook his head.

Another person said what was on Gerald's mind. "How are you still alive?"

Scott winced. How should he answer that? He didn't even know his familiar's name! "Um... I... There was a familiar there." He didn't really know. She shouldn't have been able to do anything. Familiars couldn't bond with a mage until they could hold a shape. Even the outline of a shape. For her to be just a sleeve was the mark of a barely-there, very young familiar.

"Well, you must have done something," that same man said, his tone faintly accusing. "Or you were faking your injury." The man's eyes narrowed. "And you talked the healer into going along with it."

"Mark," Ivette chided. "Healer Ironsson doesn't go along with anything."

Talk sprang up around the room. Scott didn't know what to say or do. He hadn't done anything except be...

He slumped. Yes, this was the way it went. Someone had hurt him and instead of them being punished it would be him.

"Quiet," Gerald demanded. Silence fell over the room. He looked down the table to one of the clan's newest members. "Scott, what happened when Neiley left you?"

"I spoke with a familiar."

Gerald nodded. "And then what?"

"She asked me if I would bond with her. I said yes, if it wouldn't hurt her. Then I woke up this morning."

"That's all?"

"Yes, sir."

Gerald looked at Ivette. "There aren't any familiars capable of doing that. Not in this clan," he murmured softly to her. "Has anyone arrived overnight? One of the familiars called in another?"

She shrugged. She hadn't any better idea what was going on than he did.

Scott felt a whisper of movement over his hand. The room saw a sleeve flutter against his cheek. "They're cruel to you," a female voice said softly. "Your roommate, Derek, didn't tease you, because he thought you weren't worth the effort. Then two young men convinced him you were. They did not intend for this prank to go so far, but have talked themselves into the idea of 'It's only Scott.'"

A pause. "Your own Head of Clan thought that I might have ceased in saving you. He thought you did it deliberately. There isn't anyone here who would miss you or spare more than a thought for you. This is not where you and I belong."

"Familiar," Gerald began. That was not the way a familiar should speak to the head of a clan.

"No," the female voice said loudly. "I will speak."

"You can't be hearing my thoughts," Gerald said firmly. "You're a new familiar. You lie to your mage."

Robin ignored him and spoke instead to her mage. He was the one she was concerned for, after all. "First lesson, my mage, though you know it already," the female voice said. "Appearances are deceiving."

She stopped being just a sleeve for the first time in decades. She set a pale hand on Scott's shoulder as she stood. An amethyst drop hung around her throat on a gold chain. Her brown and blond hair curled and fell around her shoulders. Her midnight blue shirt accented her curves. Her legs were covered by dark blue jeans and her feet were settled into black loafers. A string of small hearts on her anklet peeked out from beneath her jeans.

She straightened and met the eyes of the Head of the Clan. "I do not lie to my mage. You are fair, but you would not take his side."

She turned to Scott. "My name is Robin. I will search out a clan for us, but until then we will stay here. You are absolutely safe with me."

A disdainful sniff at the gathered members of the clan later, Robin took the seat next to Scott. "Eat your breakfast," she murmured. "You'll need it for your classes."

Scott nodded and started putting eggs and pancakes on his plate. She was a powerful familiar who seemed to honestly care for him. How did he get so lucky?

"Not luck." She smiled as he froze. "I am on your side, Scott. You have only to ask and we will journey to another continent."

"I... You can do that?"

Robin grinned and tilted her head playfully. "You have no idea how powerful I am. And I think I'll keep it a secret for a while longer." She waved at the table. "Do you need the syrup?"