Kallima jolted upright as the tiny body stirred beneath her. The stony grey girl rubbed her eyes in exhaustion and confusion. The taller fae backed into her seat and watched Sable sit up.
“Am I in the medical ward?” the gargoyle asked.
The redhead nodded. Sable’s “extraction,” as Drummer called it, had been handled quickly, but the damage received was enough to earn her a bed in the infirmary. Red blisters along her arms and legs marked places where the two chimeras had tried and failed to bite the teenager through her tough stone skin. Once removed from danger, Sable passed out. Anna blamed the traces of venom left in the rocky craters of the wounds and insisted that the girl stay overnight.
“Case and I made Shay leave to eat,” Kallima told her. “He looked like he was going to stay here all night.”
“How long was I out?”
“Only a few hours. The good news is that the school gets to keep boasting that no one’s died in the Labyrinth, you know?”
Sable hummed absentmindedly as she traced one of the large crescents of teeth-marks with her fingers.
“Good for the school,” she mumbled.
Kallima sighed then said, “Hey, I got you something.”
Kallima produced a small box in red wrapping paper from beneath her chair and handed it to the gargoyle. Sable tucked her hair behind on ear, glanced around, and took the item.
“It’s a Christmas present,” Kallima said, beaming.
Sable stared at Kallima, then asked, “What’s Christmas?”
“It’s a holiday, from the Mortal Realm. You give presents to your friends and family, just to say you care about them,” Kallima tried to explain.
“Oh, like yule. But why presents?”
“Because someone a long time ago was willing to die for people he didn’t even know. Well,” Kallima retracted, “that- that’s Easter. Christmas is his birthday, and since we can’t give presents to him, we give them to others we care about. Anyway, it’s during break, and I was going to wait until finals ended, but... Oh, just open it!”
Sable sighed and began working slowly at the edges of the paper, visibly confused by the tape holding it shut. She whimpered when a piece stuck to her pinkie and yelped when Kallima tugged it off and balled it up. With the paper gone, she opened the folds of the box and gasped.
“This is yours, Kali!” she said, holding up the Discman.
“Nope. Mine’s in the room. I got some help from Iggy and Maimu, so it doesn’t use batteries. It runs on power stones now,” Kallima told her.
“But they look, like, the same.”
Kallima flipped the machine over in the girl’s hands to reveal the modified battery pack holding a small, pulsing blue crystal. Runes carved in around it distinguished it further from its older twin.
“You’ll want this, too,” Kallima said, passing a CD to her recovering roommate.
“Johnny Cash,” Sable read. “He looks old.”
“He is old. Dad recommended it. Said he had a rough life growing up, and I thought it might be... I don’t know. Inspirational?”
Sable nodded and continued fondling her gifts. Kallima frowned when the gargoyle sniffled and wiped her nose. Then the smaller girl smiled at Kallima with sad, blue eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“I- I don’t, like... I’ve got nothing for you, though.”
“Bah! I’ll be fine. I have a step-family to get me presents.”
“Ah! You’re awake!”
Shay landed on the foot of Sable’s bed and sat on his knees before either girl could process that he had entered the room. Sable gripped her presents to her chest and solidified, fearful of the sudden presence. The erratic boy rubbed the blanket over her legs until she softened to flesh again.
“You good?” he asked her.
“Mm-hmm,” the girl said.
The spirit fae raised his hand and slapped Sable’s leg through the blanket. She gasped and whimpered, skin crackling softly but not turning rocky.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” the team leader scolded. “You never, ever abandon your team! Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” Sable said.
“What were you thinking, Say?” he continued. “Kali was gonna break down the door to get you out! You didn’t have to do that!”
“You’re damn lucky that spring semester is individual, or I’d have to rethink having you on my team! Do you know how scared I was?”
“Sable, if you call me ‘sir’ one more time, I’ll slap you.”
“Yes, s- Shay.”
The boy sighed and slid off the bed. Stepping around Kallima, he knelt by Sable and forced her into a tight hug, resting his cheek on her shoulder. Again her skin popped and snapped as her cheeks turned dark. Kallima snorted softly as the girl locked her jaw and fiddled with her headphones.
“Don’t scare me like that,” the boy whispered. “You’ve been my best friend for ages.”
“Yeah,” Sable said.
“I talked to Coach Drummer about your grade,” Shay said, clearing his throat. “He’s going to look at the recording, but-”
“I’m gonna fail, I know. It’s okay,” Sable said with a meek, fake smile.
“No! He said that if you were legitimately concerned about our safety, you’ll get a major point boost for putting the team’s needs ahead of your own. You might get the only A in our group!”
Kallima grabbed Sable’s hand and said, “You were so brave, Sable. He can’t give you less! And you improved the most.”
Sable said, “Still, there’s no way I’ll get a better score than anyone else.”
Shay pulled away and stroked the wounded child’s hair, assuring her that she was wrong. Sable ignored him, opening the CD and putting it into the Discman instead. The lion of a boy sighed, said good-night to Kallima, and shuffled out of the room. Alone again, Kallima forced a smile at her friend.
“So, Shay?” she asked. “You like Shay?”
“Idunowajurtalkinboud,” the gargoyle muttered.
“Oh, come on, now. He likes you, too!”
“He’s dating Case. An- And I don’t, like, like him. We’re just friends.”
“Friends are comfortable around each other,” Kallima teased.
“What, like you and Ig?”
“Ig- Iggy’s not a friend! He’s my tutor!”
“A tutor you’ve been alone in a room with.”
Kallima gasped, “Who told you that?”
“It’s all over school. Gabe’s telling everyone that’s why you didn’t sleep with him. Because he would have found out.”
“Yes, well, Gabriel is an ass.”
“You believe me, right?”
Sable nodded, “He also said that he was done with this school, but I think he’s lying to hide that he got kicked out.”
“Ha! He got expelled?”
“Well, it’s not the first time he’s tried to bribe a girl to have sex with him. Shay said that Andrew told him that last year, he got this intulo, Eve, to sleep with him. She said he threatened her, but he said she was lying. Lord Tucker sent her family money to, like, shut her up.”
Kallima gaped, “Eve? Wait, what’s an intulo?”
“Like a lizard-type person,′ Sable said. “They took the money and ran. I guess twice is, like, too much for coincidence, though, because Gabe is, like, ranting about how bad ISF is and how he’s going to get an apprenticeship, get ‘a real education.’ Sounds like a cover-up to me.”
“Yes, it does,” Kallima said, patting the girl’s arm. “You get some rest, okay? I’ll tell Anna you’re awake. See you in the morning.”“Night, Kali.”