If he were uncomfortable seeing bare faces, seeing everyone’s bare body almost threw him into shock. The first time, he’d tried not showering; jogging back to the Surdeniliarch’s in his sweat and had been sent back immediately. Fortunately by then, he’d discovered, the girls were all gone and all but three other boys. That, he found, he could manage.
“So, you going to Honey’s tonight, Kyrus?” Werfas cranked open the tap and stuck his matted hair under the water, sighing. He’d admitted to Kyrus and thus to Jashi, that he’d formerly been the last to shower, because of his scars. Something had happened; years ago from how faded the ladders of scar tissue running from his lower back, down his right leg. Kyrus hadn’t thought to comment on it, because he was trying to be polite and not look, busying himself with getting clean as fast as possible and when Jashi had asked, Werfas – absolutely shameless as far as Kyrus was concerned, despite his self-professed shyness -- had leaned back against the wet stone with his arms crossed across his chest and had just shaken his head no. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t crippled him.
“Um, yes. Do you, um, well I know you don’t like tea but…”
“For a Lainz, Brakayus serves good coffee.”
“Can I come, too?” Jashi chimed in, scrambling after the soap.
For a second Kyrus and Werfas’s eyes caught, perfectly in accord in a way that Kyrus just wasn’t used to. “No, squirt,” Werfas said, lathering his armpits. “Your family wants you home today, remember? Your big sister and her family are coming to show off the new baby.”
“Perhaps if your father gives you permission to be with us, Jashi.” Kyrus said, shaking off the excess water and beginning to wring out his hair. “He may not wish you to… to…” He wasn’t sure how to phrase it without insulting either the boy or himself.
“Hang around with low-lifes like us.” Werfas cut in, grinning.
“Jash, its all right, I’m just joking. Some other day, all right?”
It was odd, to have friends. At home other boys his age. They had been acquaintances, rivals, other boy whores to be kept at arm’s length, men to be salaamed to and served as possible customers, or men to run from to escape arrest and exposure. Women to be polite to, and otherwise ignored. He’d not been formally introduced to any respectable girls. Besides, girls weren't friends, they were wives or concubines.
“Hey, squirt!” Werfas called Jashi back as he headed for the change room. “Your hair’s still wet. You don’t want to freeze your head outside.” He caught the little boy in his towel and held him while he scrubbed his head dry… well, drier, anyway. “Go on. See you tomorrow!”
“Sure, Werfas!” Jashi ducked the snapped towel and ran to get changed, the older boys following.
Werfas wrapped the towel around his middle, his smile for Jashi smoothing out to his more serious face.
“The Zon was looking for you when you were in the necessary and asked me to pass on that she wants to talk to you before you head off.”
Kyrus paused in the act of pulling his clothes out of the cubby and looked over.
“That’s where you went?”
“Yeah.” Werfas pulled his sweater on over his head. “She said she’d be in her office.”
Well, she praised me today. That means she isn’t likely to go to this length just kick me out, would she?
“Okay, thanks for letting me know.” He tried to keep his sudden discomfort hidden.
“Sure, Kyrus. Ah, did you say you were going to be eating at Honey’s?”
“Um. I’ll see you there, then. My regular kitchen is out of the rotation tonight for some repairs.”
“Oh, all right.” Kyrus sat down as Werfas pulled on his boots and coat and clumped down the hallway. If I’m still here, tonight. He couldn’t make himself get up right away. He was settling in, finding friends, but it was still as alien as if he had to set his head on backwards every morning. He’d found out that what he’d thought were inns as they would have been in Lainz, were actually the communal kitchens for each segment of the community, for the Milari ate together rather than having full kitchens in each separate house… more than a means of making tea and the odd loaf of bread it seemed.
He sighed and pushed himself up, taking his outside gear with him. The Zon had her office just inside the main door and he tapped on it and entered. The office was a windowless cubby almost filled by a desk, a chair, more books than Kyrus had ever thought could exist in one place balanced precariously on over-stuffed shelves and a very small black and tan dog whose life functions seemed to be to lick students, bark every time there was an odd knock, and lie under the Zon’s desk and produce huge amounts of malodorous gas.
His eyes watering, Kyrus asked, “You wanted to see me, Zon?” Does she breathe? She doesn’t seem to notice.
She nodded at him. “You should smell her when she hauls home beaver or muskrat carcasses bigger than she is.”
“Um.” There didn’t seem to be any polite answer to that. She coughed slightly.
“I’ll have mercy on you and tell you quickly. You and Nomirus and little Malyissen all need extra classes. Tell your kitchen and shoveling details that you’ll have less time for them. Later on I may have to cut into your schooling as well.” It was part of the deal the Surdeniliarch had made with him.
He had to take part in all the community chores as though he were a natural Milar, born in the city, which included being part of a snow removal crew, working in the communal kitchen two days a week and attending classes with all others under their majority at the Dee Dari though he had no talent for either of the EnDarkened talents.
“Oh. Yes, Zon. I thought I was that bad.” At least it wasn’t kicking him out.
The look on her face seemed ironic. “I see. Well, the three of you will be working out with iron bars as opposed to mere iron bound sticks.”
Kyrus set his teeth. Wonderful. “I will let everyone know.”
“Good. Now go on with you, get a breath of fresh air.” If he didn’t know better that the teacher could not smile, he’d swear there was a grin in her gravelly voice. The dog under the desk stretched in her sleep and let an audible fart loose. “Perhaps I will, too,” she said as he fled the oncoming stench, out into the deep cold. It wasn’t too bad, he realized because it was warm enough to be snowing again.