She paid perfect attention to Claire, not giving a single glance to me or the many children running around her, but I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. This woman was beautiful. I would never admit it, or maybe I would, but when I stopped a strange lady from taking one of my second grade students home, it was not out of concern for their wellbeing. Something about this woman, tall and strong, eyes alight as she talked to Claire and hair burning red, called to me, challenged me, and I doubt I could have stayed away if I wanted to.
"Hi," I said, a cocky grin on my face as I walked up to Claire and the woman with her. It was unlike me to give a grin like that, but something about the strong woman before me riled something I didn't know I had. I watched as she looked at me with an impassive glance, her clear blue eyes were unimpressed with me, and I needed to prove myself.
"Mr. Vera! !" Claire said, jumping up in down with energy she hadn't had before the commanding woman beside her had come into the room. She wasn't the only child to change when the adults in their lives entered the picture, plenty of well behaved boys and girls turned into absolute heathens when their parents left. Claire, however, was usually much more reserved and calm. It was nice to see her, alit with energy. "This is my Aunt Naomi! She's been gone but she's back!"
The woman, Aunt Naomi, smiled easily. Unlike me, she kept her attention on the little child beside her. "C'mon Claire, we've got to get you home, I told your mom we'd be straight there."
"Sorry, Miss. Naomi, but you're not on Claire's list," I said, surprised by the ferocity in her very instantaneous glare. I briefly considered letting her go, Claire clearly knew the woman, but decided against it. It was school policy, after all. If I was being honest with myself, I liked upsetting her. Her stature was always standing straight, shoulders back, head up, but when I angered her a fire entered her gaze. I had become a challenge then, and that was something I felt a primal desire to be. "Just let me call Claire's parents, it'll be just a moment."
"You do that," She said, curt and unhappy. She crossed her arms and I began to wonder if the glare she gave me was intended to kill. I nodded, gave her a winning smile, and made my way to my desk, searching up Claire's mother's phone number and calling her.
"You have reached the voicemail box of Melanie Hearts, I apologise for any inconvenience. Please leave your name and number and I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks."
I hung up without leaving a message, clearly I wasn't going to speak to Mrs. Hearts about the issue. I dialed Mr. Hearts then, hoping he would answer. I was too far in it to just let her go, but if neither parent answered I'd have to start calling everyone on Claire's approved drop list. I couldn't deny that the idea of inconveniencing Naomi to that extent was mildly hilarious to me, but when I smirked at a gaze meant to burn, I began to question my personal value on life. Did I want her to attack me?
"This is Brandon, how can I help you?" A man's voice answered the phone and I had to fight myself to stop the grin from my face.
"Good afternoon Mr. Hearts, it is Mr. Vera, your daughter's teacher?" I asked, hoping that he would recognise me. He may not have, but like all parents, he immediately came to attention when I said his child's name.
"Is Claire okay?" Brandon asked over the line, a slight moment of worry in his voice.
I shook my head before remembering that he couldn't see me, "No- she's fine, nothing like that. She's absolutely fine, perfectly behaved in class as always. There is a Miss. Naomi here to pick up Claire and she's not on your approved pick up list."
There was a moment of pause and then a hearty laugh. "So, uh, Naomi is there, and you told her she couldn't take Claire home?"
"Yes, I'm sorry Mr. Hearts, it's school policy-" Shit. Did he realize I was only messing with Naomi? It was highly unprofessional, and Mr. Hearts didn't make me want to act like a rude teenager, unlike Naomi. He was the parent to my student, and I needed to be a mature and adjusted adult. He interrupted me with a positive tone.
"Don't worry about it, yeah, Naomi can take Claire home. If you can send the form home, we'll add her to the list. Tell me, is Naomi really really angry?"
"There's no form, I can add her in now," I said. A glance at Naomi made me stifle a laugh, she was positively glowering. "And, uh, she doesn't look happy."
"Trust me," Brandon said, his voice light and amused. "She never does."
"Oh," I said, not sure what to say, except that Naomi had seemed perfectly happy with Claire before I walked up. In fact, she'd been in a fine mood before I'd decided to have a solo pissing contest.
"Anyway, yeah, Naomi can pick Claire up," Brandon said. "Sorry about that, I completely forgot about the list."
"It's no trouble, I will let her know." I said, "Thank you."
"Of course," He said. There was a moment of silence before we both hung up. I tried my best to not smirk when I came back, lording the little power I almost had was pathetic. She'd made me that way, though, like no other woman ever had. "Mr. Hearts added you to the approved list, you're free to go."
She nodded curtly, her bright blue eyes narrowing as she did. I watched her as she left, absentmindedly listening to Claire talk about her day. Who was this woman?
"...turtles because Jacob loves turtles, but I don't like turtles because they're so slimy so I raised my hand for a rabbit. Everyone else did too so now we have to come up with a name and Mr. Vera told us our homework is to learn about taking care of rabbits. So Jacob and Matt got mad, because they wanted turtles, and since Jacob's older brother has turtles they already knew about how to take care of them. They had to stop though because Mr. Vera was moving on to multiplication tables."
"Wait," I said, listening to Claire talk aimlessly about her day at school. I hadn't been paying much attention (second graders were not known for weaving exciting tales), my mind stuck on Mr. Vera, but the way she spoke about 'Jacob' and 'Matt' being angry concerned me. "What did they do when they got mad?"
"Nothing," Claire said, a bit too fast. She was raised in a human house... I reminded myself for the millionth time, as if it weren't painfully obvious by her bare shoulders. "It was all my fault anyway, it's not like I have to touch the turtles-"
"-What did they do?" I interrupted Claire and stopped the car at a red light, this time turning to look at her. "Claire, tell me."
She mumbled something incomprehensible before repeating louder at the look on my face. "They said they'd break all of my crayons if I was mean to them again."
I nearly groaned, Brandon was a good guy, I'd known him nearly 20 years, but he and his wife were absolute shit at raising a woman. Melanie was a housewife, what type of expectations did that give to Claire? I shuddered at the thought of her married, 2.5 kids and a picket fence, making sure to have dinner on the table before 'Matt' or 'Jacob' got home.
She must have noticed my anger because she rushed out to stop it, "Aunt Naomi, it's not a big deal, that's just what boys do when they like you."
"No, honey, it's not," I said, trying to use a gentle voice. I didn't want to scare her, but I had to do something. "When boys like you they compliment you and share their toys. You haven't been mean, and you shouldn't let Matt or Jacob bully you."
She was silent, and I could tell that despite my best efforts she was terrified. That was the problem with Claire. Sweet, beautiful Claire. She was shrimpy, outgoing but scared of her own shadow. Her confidence was constantly shaken and I couldn't help but think that if she'd been raised by dragons she'd be better off. It was a stupid thought, of course, probably. Yes, stupid, what was I thinking. Still, though, it wasn't like I couldn't help.
"How about this Claire, how about I pick you up from school every day and then we go to the boxing gym, so you can defend yourself against bullies?" I asked, parking at her home and looking at her in the seat next to me. Learning how to punch and kick, strengthening her body in general, would have to help with her self confidence.
"Okay..." She said, thinking it over. "But you can't tell mommy and daddy about the bullies. It'll be our little secret, like the front seat."
I laughed and helped Claire out of the passenger seat, looking at the booster seat I'd never used. Claire was seven, she didn't need a damn booster seat and I couldn't properly hold a conversation with a child in the back. "Okay, our little secret."
I watched as Claire let herself inside, safe in our little town in her little home. I was glad she'd agreed to train with me, and certain that I could pick her up from school every day. I wished I could say that I was entirely focused on Claire, but there was a big part of me that felt a pull to Mr. Vera. I'd known when I'd seen him, even now, beneath my runes, I could feel my wings fluttering. Deep in my chest, the base of my fire burned. I had to ignore it though, so I focused on my responsibilites. On Claire. Besides, with thought of Claire's bullies, anger was the first thing on my mind anyway. He'd given me trouble about picking up my neice, my family, and yet what little domain he had he failed to control? Pathetic. His incompetence had hurt my niece, and I would be sure it would not do so again.
If I was a wise man, I would have been prepared for the onslaught of questions and insults that Naomi didn't bother to be subtle about the second day she picked Claire up from school. I was not a wise man, however, so when she spoke to me, her voice anything but kind, I found myself completely unprepared and just a little aroused.
"How dare you!" She snapped, her face filled with rage. Her red locks were up in a braid, allowing me to see the fierce angle of her eyebrows, the intense frown, and -it must have been a trick of the light- but I could have sworn I saw flames dance behind her clear blue eyes. She was enticing, and I had to reject the part of me that wanted to kiss her senseless. I hadn't felt desire like this before, and I had never needed to say no more. She's the aunt of your student! Who is standing right there! Pull yourself together! "How dare you critique me about picking up my family when you don't even watch her!"
"Miss. Nao-" I tried to interrupt her, stop her and figure out what was going on, but it clearly wasn't going to happen my way. Last time I had seen her I'd felt a pushing desire to challenge her, but in my shock and confusion at her anger, I could ignore the voice willing me to egg her on. The rage she held was pure, and were it possible, I was sure she would have set the building on fire.
"-She told me last night that two of your students have been bullying her, and she was under the impression that that's 'what boys do when they like you'." Naomi snapped, sounding as if that was the absolute worst thing she'd heard in over a decade. Her eyes were burning, daring me to challenge her. "You can't even control what little you're in charge of and on top of that you try to stop me from getting her? Where do you get off?"
Though almost (but not quite) scared, I was beginning to realize why Brandon was so amused that I'd angered Naomi. I couldn't help mirror his amusement, Naomi really might try and kill me. The thought was absurd, even though she was clearly athletic, Naomi was still as human as her niece and anyone else in this small coastal town. I seriously doubted she could kill me, and the thought of her trying forced me to hide an ill-advised chuckle.
"I expect an answer out of you!" Naomi snapped again, clearly upset with my lack of response. What did she expect me to say? "What do you plan to do about this? I want Matt and Jacob punished, if not expelled!"
"I'm sorry Miss Naomi, but I can't talk to you about Miss. Claire's education as you're not one of her guardians." I said, trying my best to not smirk. I wasn't usually like this, but this woman...
"You can't-" Naomi started, her tone dangerous. This time I couldn't hide my grin of amusement, especially when Claire walked up to her Aunt and stopped her from saying whatever she was going to say to me.
"Aunt Naomi," She said at almost a whine. "C'mon, you promised daddy."
Naomi glared at me one last time for effect and squatted down to Claire's level. "I know, I'm sorry, but it's my job to protect you, and to do that I need to talk to Mr. Vera about what you told me yesterday."
At this point Claire, a girl who surprised me every time I saw her with her aunt, mumbled something just below what I could hear. Naomi laughed, her voice clear and optimistic, and hugged Claire. She was so sweet with the young girl, not talking to her like a child, but loving her much like a mother. She stood up then, her demeanor instantly changing when she looked at me. Once again she stood strong and angry, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. As a woman looked ready to murder me, all I could think about was how sexy she was.
"I suppose I can take her, or are you going to bother my brother again?" She snapped, arching her eyebrow dangerously. I always thought girls were crazy with their eyebrow obsession, but I could see now how much it altered her face. It was very clear that she was mocking me, and for a moment I considered telling her no, just to see what she would do.
I almost forgot to answer, "Yes, of course, you're on the approved list." I couldn't help the slight smirk when I mentioned the list.
She glared again then and grabbed Claire's hand gently. For her part, Claire sent me an amused but apologetic glance as she walked out with Naomi. Between Claire and her father, it was clear that Naomi was always like this.
I sat at my desk and halfheartedly tried to grade multiplication tables (I had the students do them every day, how bad could it be to not grade one measly assignment?). I couldn't focus though, and deciding that I would just have to grade them at home, I packed up my bag and left.
I walked into my apartment as it usually was, Ben with Bale in his lap on our couch. Ben was watching television and eating chinese take out and Bale was munching on egg rolls as he read through one of his many school textbooks.
"We got you orange chicken and rice," Ben said, smiling at me warmly.
"Thanks," I said, first walking to our kitchen to grab a drink before grabbing the plastic takeout box. I sat down on a chair and took a deep breath, putting my face in my hands and causing Bale to stop his studying.
"You okay?" He said after sharing a look with Ben.
I loved living with Ben and Bale, we'd lived in the same foster home for years and they were my brothers. However, unlike living with strangers, I couldn't get much past them. There would be no ignoring my emotions and letting me live. Unlike your random roommate, the two felt invested in my life and happiness.
"What? Yeah," I said in a sorry attempt at lying, faking confusion.
Neither believed me, "You're sitting on your briefcase."
"What- oh!" I said, jumping up and moving the crumpled briefcase out from under me. I leaned it against the leg of the armchair, groaning and putting my hands in my face. "It's a woman," I muttered, my words incomprehensible against my hands, coming out in a garbled mess.
"Somehow, we missed that," Ben said, grinning like a cheshire cat.
"It's this woman," I said, shocking both Ben and Bale. "She's-" I laughed to myself, relaxing as I spoke about her. "-She's actually always so mad at me, and she's fucking terrifying but she's also so distracting." My tone lowered down to a groan as I finish, "I didn't even have a meeting today, they canceled it, I just couldn't focus grading these multiplication tables."
"Has a mere mortal managed to catch the eye of the great and powerful Samuel Vera?" Ben teased, sounding awed and offended, an act as he once more made me regret telling him who I was. Next time, don't tell friends you're a magical being, got it...
"Shut up, Ben," Bale said, though he was grinning at the tease nonetheless. "Sam is never going to bring girls over if you're so... 'Funny'."
"I beg to differ," Ben said. "My teasing creates an air of informality that comforts many people. You, for example, have always been drawn to my open and honest personality."
"Always is a bit of a stretch-"
"-And, you know what? She would probably actually punch me," I said. I hadn't stopped talking about Naomi, going through our five minutes of history as Ben and Bale bickered as couples do. "Even if she knew, I don't think she'd care, most women, they're so..."
"Non-violent?" Bale said, sounding as if he were worried for my sanity, "Unlikely to attack you?"
"Now now Bale," Ben said. "Sam likes a bit of action in his life, he's a wild child."
"... soft?" I answered myself, unsatisfied with their responses. "It's not- I don't have a problem with women, it's people really. I have yet to meet someone with confidence that says 'I am strong and valuable' without saying 'You are not as good as me'. No, that's not it either, she just- she has a strength, you know?"
"No, we haven't met this woman," Bale said, smiling at me. "But maybe we should- you should ask her to come out to the movies or something."
"A date? What?" I asked, responding to something he said, finally. He had to be kidding. I'd dated before, of course, I wasn't a priest. Still, the idea of asking Naomi out was absurd.
"Well, a double date," Bale said, shrugging.
"You must have been too busy flirting to hear, she hates me," I said, grinning at the memory. "At first she was merely ambivalent, but apparently her niece has been bullied and now she honestly hates me. I honestly think that if Claire hadn't stopped her, she might have hit me."
"Why are you chuckling about that?" Bale asked, worried for my sanity. I couldn't help it though, the idea of Naomi hitting me was... hilarious. No, that wasn't right, but it was... something. "You're- Sam ask her out."
Before I protested, Ben nodded in agreement. "You've got a crush, just stoop down with us plebeian-"
"-She's related to one of my students, Ben, this isn't about not wanting to date a human," I snapped.
"Hey- Ben know's that," Bale said. "You live with us- as human as humans come, plus we've heard the girl's you've brought home- you have absolutely no problem with humans. In fact, you seem to quite like the things they do. Calm down."
"Go easy on him 'Ale, he's in lurve," Ben laughed. He mocked my voice with a lovesick tone, going slightly effeminate as he continued. "She almost hit me! Can you imagine? Her skin on mine-"
I had to laugh then, the image of Ben in front of me with his eyes looking up as he blinked rapidly and made a ridiculous smile.
"Look, this woman- she's great, but no, I'm not going to ask her out," I said, unable to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of my mind saying it was a bad idea. Maybe it's my self preservation?
"...setting all of your problems on fire, it's not always the solution," Allenia, my step sister and best friend, said as we sat in our home kitchen, eating dinner at the countertop.
"It's worked every time so far," Watson, my younger brother, argued with what he thought was a convincing point.
"I don't see why we can't set all of our problems on fire," John agreed with his twin.
"Fucking dragons," Allenia muttered to herself, sipping her soda and pretending that no one could hear her. I sometimes wondered if that was why she'd worked so hard to become the strong earth mage that she was, to deal with the dragons that had been unceremoniously dumping into her life 17 years ago.
For myself, I didn't see any reason why, if it worked, Watson and John couldn't just set all of their problems on fire. If it worked, I mean, why not? I knew better than to voice my opinions though, because it was likely that they would set something on fire if I did that, and doubtful that it would solve whatever ridiculous problem they'd decided they wanted to 'solve'. Instead I ate my food and watched my brothers and sister argue, amused.
My mother had died when I was a child, and my father had remarried when I was 7. It would have been fine, but he married a human. Which, I suppose, would have been less shocking if kind Sarah Hearts hadn't brought two, fairly fragile, human children with her to add to our small army of 6 young dragons. It wasn't that humans were bad, but that they were breakable. Humans, for example, burned, whereas it took intent to burn fellow dragons. Of course, as 'fragile' as they were, I loved my human family and had learned that they made up for their flammability with character and good ol' natural love.
I guess Allenia was used to things spontaneously burning, fights breaking out that broke walls, and thunderous dragon speak because she lived in a townhome with Watson, John, and I quite happily.
"Speaking of 'fucking dragons'," Allenia said, turning to me. "I hear Kendra burned down her second crib."
"I heard. She's showing excellent progress. Four years old and already burning," I nodded in approval, smiling with pride to hear the news about my niece. "Having her wings at four is really impressive."
Allenia grinned, now taking a moment to look at Watson and John "I know, didn't it take you two until you were eight?"
Watson and John blushed brightly, they'd been the latest bloomers of our immediate family and had always been particularly embarrassed about it. Personally, considering that their usual solution to problems was to set them on fire, I was happy they hadn't gotten their wings until I was older and able to stop them from going too far.
"So how was your day? I haven't gotten to ask, but the room has suddenly gotten so quiet," Allenia said, teasing our blushing brothers.
I laughed, "Alright, I helped out in Jacob's class. Claire's teacher was just as infuriating as he was yesterday when I went to pick her up. I can't believe he had to call to let me take home my own niece, I thought human school wasn't as influential as dragons?"
"Well, I mean, it's controlled by the government and it's not homeschool, but the school can still possess some authority over the children there." Allenia said, though she'd switched to dragon school freshman year after becoming a mage, she still knew more about how they ran than I did. "I mean, the teacher was just trying to keep her safe. It's not like you two look anything alike."
I rolled my eyes, seriously doubting that Mr. Vera, polite button up wearing nice guy would be able to defend Claire if it ever came to it. Though, he hadn't backed down. True, he'd been surprised, maybe a little nervous, but he hadn't been scared. Most people I interacted with out of the magical community were too scared to argue with me, and if they weren't when they first met me, they soon where. It showed a certain strength, or absolute stupidity, that he hadn't backed down. I settled into the thought, Mr. Vera... There was clearly more to him than what I'd seen.
"What's that look for?" Allenia asked, smiling as she teased me.
"Nothing," I said, shaking my head and hoping thoughts for Mr. Vera would leave me alone. I couldn't think about him anymore, and yet he was all I could think about. I had to focus, 24 years of my life had been dedicated to my family, I wasn't about to change that.
Author's Note Hello all! For those of you who read my other story, Break, never fear! This story is already completed! I need to just go through, clean up some stuff, and it is ready to post! No months long, year long, posting breaks.
Please let me know what you think, and thank you so much for reading. :)