1. Love is a Battlefield

“Come on, what’s in the bag?” Woodrow used his elbow to give Eddie’s a nudge as they headed down one of St. Agatha’s halls. The bespectacled doodler just wasn’t giving up. All three of the presidents had noticed the extra bit of plastic poking out of Eddie’s backpack. Woody had just been the first to bring it up, he wasn’t going to let it go. It was mostly because Eddie had blushed lightly and stammered out a quick refusal to tell.

The mathematician swayed away from his friend, as far as he could without running into Quince anyway. Both of his less-athletic friends had taken up the flanks as they walked, while Jeff kept a stride or two ahead. “Sorry, Quince.”

“Nothing to worry about.” The physic’s nerd was, as always, in his tweed jacket. With a cheeky grin he pressed up on tip-toes, shined shoes squeaking. His faux-attempt to try and look into the bag earned him a playful shove from Eddie. All four of them laughed.

“Seriously, gentleman, just lay off of him? It’s always good to mind one’s own business.” Jefferson offered back over one of his shoulders once the mirth had died down. The well-built black man didn’t have books with him; he didn’t even have classes today. He’d just swung by to hang out with his friends. As usual he was dressed in a fashionable pair of slacks and just the right color shirt to match.

By comparison Eddie was sloppy. He’d managed to find a mostly-clean pair of jeans this morning and pulled the last fresh t-shirt from the wardrobe. With any luck he’d remember to do laundry when he got home tonight. It was either that or swathing which ever shirt smelled the least with body spray tomorrow and hoping no one noticed. “Thanks, Jeff.”

“My pleasure, Edward. So what’s in the bag?” Jeff almost smiled.

Eddie’s shoulder’s sagged. “Oh hell.”

“Heh.” As the quartet of brainiacs turned a corner Woody pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Come on, it’ll just be easier if you tell us. You do know that, right? So stop being a stubborn yank.”

“No.” Eddie kept his response simple.

It was the middle of the week and as such the halls of the university were packed with people coming and going. No one paid much attention though. There were classes to get to, or get out of. Plans weren’t discussed, they were texted. Conversations weren’t started up; folks listened to their music or played games on their smart phones instead. The lack of human interaction even as everyone milled around one another was the norm but as Eddie swam through it with the others he noticed how much they stood out for the first time. Nearly everyone was severed for one another, save when instinct took over and someone stepped out of another person’s way. There was sometimes an ‘excuse me’ but it was only half-muttered. This must be the sort of work that Belle had been talking about. The true loneliness of modern society threatened to weave its way into his brain.

Thankfully Quince spoke up before that happened. He shifted his Tardis messenger bag from one shoulder to the other. “Fine. Fine. So how’s Eloise?”

“Oh.” Eddie cleared his throat and shrugged in a listless way. “She’s fine.”

“Yeech.” Jeff looked back at him again.

Woody took a look between the two of them before nearly turning all the way around to watch a co-ed’s ass as she walked by. The girl, of course, didn’t even give him the time of day. “Yeech what?”

“Nothing happened with Dr. Fournier did it?” Jeff did turn around and walked backwards now, with little caution. He figured his mates would let him know before he ran into anyone. He leveled his dark gaze on Eddie’s.

Alas, Eddie was a terrible liar. “Nothing. It’s fine.”

“Edward.” The black man frowned.

“Wait. Wait wait.” Woody’s attention snapped back to the conversation at hand. He brushed a hand through his mop of hair. “Eddie, did you bang the French teacher, too? Holy shit!”

“Come on. Not even Eddie’s that lucky.” Woody though stared at the American with some wonder, and a tinge of hero worship. The second emotion only grew when Eddie cleared his throat again and his throat flushed. “Whoa.”

“It’s nothing, really.” Eddie looked down instead of meeting Jeff’s disapproving stare. While the other two were in shock the most proper of them all was clearly aghast. He rubbed at the front of his throat and tried to relax. He silently fumbled for a few moments as he tried to think of some way to diffuse the situation.

Nothing came to mind before Jeff snorted in distaste and turned back around. “Thinking with your dick is going to be your downfall someday.”

“Fuck that!” Woody looped and arm around Eddie’s shoulder. “I don’t care who’s knickers you get into Eddie. But really, man, you need to start spreading the wealth around. I mean come on! You can’t keep all the smoking hot babes to yourself. I mean look at poor Quince, he’s suffering over there. Aren’t you Quince?”

“Uh.” Was all that the asthmatic managed to get out for a moment before laughing. “I’m not as big of a wanker as you are, Woody.”

“Woodrow.” The otaku corrected and slipped back a step before reaching over to ‘slug’ Quincy’s shoulder. “And I beg to differ.”

“You can beg all you want, but we all know the truth. Still, wow… Dr. Fournier. She’s amazing. So classy…” Quincy shook his head in utter disbelief. He took a second long look at Eddie before just chuckling. He had no idea why their doughy friend was landing all these lovely doves. “It must be the beard.”

“That’s not a beard.” Woody chirped back.

Eddie deflated. “Oh God.” He stared at Jeff’s shoulders, waiting for the engineer to jump back into their playful banter. Jefferson didn’t though; he remained silent in his discontent. There was something about the man who had it all together that made Eddie feel terrible for letting him down. Almost as bad as he felt for Pi.

“Vance!” The violent shout echoed down the hall from behind them.

Woody, despite his best efforts jumped and on instinct scattered away from his dear friend. He could place Chadwick’s voice anywhere after all, especially when the bully was angry. Quince wasn’t so quick to react but he did shrink into his jacket. All four of them stopped walking and looked back; Eddie was the last to do so after giving Jefferson an apologetic smile. The well-dressed fellow didn’t return it.

As expected Richard was striding forward, visibly quaking with fury. He had his chest puffed out and shoulders hunched; his brows were furrowed to the point where it made him look like he might have just stepped out of a Neanderthal exhibit. He wasn’t dressed for practice though but in pre-torn jeans with a studied belt and some punk band’s tour shirt. Eddie had no idea who Genocidal Lawnmowers were. He’d leave that to the hip folks. As usual the Chadwick boy had his two wingmen, who were dressed in muscle shirts and brand name sweats. They likewise had murder on their mind. It wasn’t hard at all for Eddie to guess what Richard was steamed about. He blew out a long breath and forced down a curse. Bullies thrived on fear. The mathematician slid off his backpack and held it out to Jeff.

“Here. Hold it, please. No peeking.” Eddie waited until Jefferson silently took the bag before stepping away from his friends. Woody swallowed but couldn’t overcome his fright. With a look of pure embarrassment, not unlike a kicked puppy he slinked behind Jefferson. Quincy stood his ground, though. He did work out his inhaler. Jefferson narrowed his eyes, and then peered into the plastic bag that was poking out of Eddie’s pack. He smirked for just a moment before focusing attention back on the brewing conflict. None of the presidents took a step forward, even though a good friend should.

Eddie didn’t blame them. He didn’t want to get punched, again, either. “What’s shaking, Dick?”

“Fuck you.” In response Richard reached out and grabbed the front of Eddie’s shirt. His other hand had already become a fist but he didn’t swing just yet. The hallowed halls of learning were a bit different than just outside the pub. He knew he could get in more trouble for throwing a few punches here.

“You’re not my type.” Eddie’s hands twitched as he balled them to fists as well. On either side of Richard his two buddies took up position and just leered around, mostly at Eddie’s trio of friends. They were just daring anyone to stop out of line. Eddie didn’t stop talking even if his voice became terse. “So, what can I do for you, Dick?”

“You can eat shit and die, Vance. You and your faggot butt-fucking lover, Galbraith. Though I’m sure you’re the one that takes it in the ass aren’t you?” After the hateful spew of words Richard tried to tug Eddie off of his feet. What would have followed as a customary slam into a wall. Every ability the rugby player had had been focused on being the best bully he could be.

Eddie kept his center of gravity low though and grunted. His body shook as he tried to keep his stance so he’d not get tossed around. He went as far to clamp his hand down on Richard’s forearm. Stand firm, Eddie he told himself silently. If you run you’re never going to stop. It’s worth getting punched not to be chased down like some fox. “Let me guess, academic suspension?”

Woody squeaked and pulled fully behind Jeff now. He looked around like a frightened rabbit for somewhere to run. Oh hell, had Eddie gone to someone? This was going to be bad, real bad. He’d be mad at his best mate later. For now he needed to get away from ground zero. Jefferson gave him a nudge though and held out Eddie’s backpack. “At least be useful and hold this.”

The anime fanboy choked a bit but accepted it with wide eyes behind his stylish glasses.

“Yeah. All because of you and Woodrow, pillow-biters all stick together don’t they?” With a growl Richard shoved the geek away.

“I don’t know, why don’t you ask your two friends?” Eddie stumbled but managed to quickly regain his footing, booth verbally and physically. He felt terrible for the slur of sorts but it’d just popped out.

“Hey… fuck you.” The meathead on the left, Millard, snorted and did a small head-wiggle of disdain.

“Not unless you buy me dinner first.” As Eddie’s mouthy courage strengthened so did his smile. After a quick look to Millard his eyes riveted back to Richard as the head bully followed up. As much as Eddie wanted to beat the shit out of him, he’d not throw the first punch. He did lift his chin though.

As the two other jocks followed their boss Jefferson settled to Eddie’s left and Quincy to his right. The wheezing fellow out of the pair slipped his inhaler away before tugging on the lapels of his out-of-fashion jacket.

“I’m so going to kick your ass.” Richard snarled. “All of you.”

“No you’re not.” Eddie stepped up to meet his nemesis half-way. “You’re not going to touch any of us, that goes for Woody too. You dung your own hole in this, all three of you. It’s not my fault you want to shoot up roids, party and do whatever the hell you do for fun instead of studying. Do you think this sort of bullshit behavior is going to get you anywhere in life? Other than being a wash-up or burnout who fondly remembers when you were the BMOC and had a full head of hair? Going on about the glory days while you grow only more fat and bitter by the day?”

The logic was lost on Richard as his wide shoulders twitched. The brute’s body posture shifted and it was clear that at any moment he was going to explode into violence. His friends realized that too both of them grinned with open bloodlust. Internally Eddie winced, he didn’t want to get Jeff or Quince hurt. Though he was pretty sure Jefferson could take care of himself. Their sickly friend on the other hand.

“Listen guys… let’s not do this.” Eddie found himself saying.

“Oh.” Richard’s head cocked slightly to the side and then back as his eyebrows bounced. “Oh we’re going to do this, Vance. You’re going to be sucking dick through a tube.”

“What the bloody hell are you three idiots doing?” Perhaps it really was a stroke of dues ex machina that Dr. Galbraith happened to be walking down that particular hall. The metrosexual athletics director was very plainly put out with what he’d walked in on this but not surprised. He moved through the gaggle of what students had put aside their personal distractions to rubberneck. A few were even recording the incident on their cellphones. “Come on, break it up.”

“Hell.” Richard took a halting step back before slugging fist against upturned palm. His two lackeys followed suit with perfect chorography. Then he turned to look back at Alastair as the fencer drew near. Neither man displayed anything but open contempt for one another. They’d been butting heads for a long time.

“Okay, I want you three to head to my office. I’m going to need to have another word with you and Coach Bryant aren’t I?” Alastair was not cowed by the glare he was getting from one of the hulking trio. He scratched at the side of his perfectly trimmed beard and grumbled. His rich green gaze narrowed. “I thought I made it perfectly clear that if there was any reprisal over this incident I was going to bring down more severe penalties than a suspension.”

“You don’t know who you’re messing with.” Richard tried to keep up a strong façade as he spoke to Dr. Galbraith. He’d yet to fully realize that bullying doesn’t really work on someone with a higher position of power. The meathead was too used to getting everything he wanted because of his last name.

“My office, now.” Alastair emphatically pointed down the hall. The scene was reminiscent of high school. It was true that college kids had more freedom but in the end there was still a school administration to deal with. Yes, Chadwick and his buddies had the option to walk away. If they did though the chances of them playing rugby or even being enrolled any longer were slim. That was understood. “You can go cry into your mother’s skirts later.”

Richard’s jaw twitched in an almost painful way but he didn’t say a word. After a long stare he gave John and Millard a nod and they headed off down the hall to face the music. One could almost see the war between arrogance and cowardice within the favorite son of Devonshire. His two friends though had a hard time not being openly terrified. They didn’t have an old bloodline to back them up. Richard shot a vile look back at Eddie. The murderous look in his eyes said it all – ‘This wasn’t over, not by a long shot.’

The athletics director sighed and rubbed one hand along his face in a long suffering manner a few times. He waited until the trio were gone before heading over to Eddie and his friends. A forced smile surfaced on Alastair’s face. “I didn’t think he’d be that dumb.”

“Then you’ve not known him that long.” Woody meekly spoke up from the doorframe in which he was pressed. He gulped in air but didn’t move yet. Inside he was kicking himself for being such a terrible coward. One of these days he’d have to stand up for his friends.

Eddie shot a worried look back to the scrawny kid and grinned. He wasn’t offended at all that Woody ran. He understood, really he did. He tugged at the front of his shirt and offered a strong smile to the two fellows that stood beside him before looking back to Dr. Galbraith. He coughed and shrugged. “Sorry to have caused so much trouble, Doctor.”

“Nothing to worry about, Mr. Vance.” Alastair’s expression shifted to something kind. He got a hand shake from the nerd before holding his hand out to the other two smart kids beside him. His gaze sparked with amusement. “Doctor Alastair Galbraith. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Quincy Roosevelt. It’s nice to meet you, Doctor.” The frail fellow gave as firm a shake as he could and smiled small. “I’m sure that you know my brothers.”

“James and Cameron? Yes, yes I do. Mmm, fine young men. I hope that they’re doing well? It’s been some time since we last spoke.” The well-groomed man lifted plucked eyebrows. Up close for the second time Eddie noticed exactly how meticulous the man kept himself. It made him feel like even more of a slob.

Quince nodded and hands slid into his pockets. “Cameron is doing just fine sir. He’s in Germany at the moment working his way up the corporate ladder. James has the season off after injuring his knee but the doctors say that he should recover well and fine. I’ll let them know that you asked after them.”

“Splendid! When are we going to see you out on the field then?” Dr. Galbraith patted Quincy firmly on the shoulder, before winking. Any coach worth his salt would realize that Quincy wasn’t the athletic sort like his brothers. There wasn’t any way he’d follow in their footsteps.

Quincy ducked his head and coughed. “I’m one for just the stands.”

“Well the world takes all sorts. The mind is as important as the body.” While Alastair was a jock he wasn’t the sort to discount those who were more brainy than physical. It made him the best sort of man to have in his position. He turned to Jeff next and grinned in a curious fashion.

“Jefferson Hale, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Doctor.” Jeff held out his hand and offered a steady shake once it was taken. He even nodded a bit after he got his hand back and it slid into trouser pocket. “I do not envy you having to deal with men like that.”

Alastair took a moment to take stock of Jeff. The black man wasn’t like his friends and it had nothing to do with skin tone. He chuckled and rolled his eyes before looking down the hall. His strong shoulder rose and fell. “It is not easy I can tell you. It is the worst part about administrating all the teams, too many self-important men with more muscles than brains, or respect. Speaking of which I should head out to my office instead of standing here chatting. It was nice to meet all of you, if they bother any of you, at all… that includes you back there Mr. Munn, don’t hesitate in letting me know, okay? We’re here to help you.”

The four of them nodded and muttered in agreement. Alastair smiled once last time before heading off to deal with his headache. There was no rest for the wicked after all; maybe this was the Lord getting back at him for dabbling in black magic? Dr. Galbraith smirked. Nah.

“I… need to get out of here.” Woody slinked back and offered out Eddie’s backpack to him. He wanted to frown and scream at his friend that things had been only made worse now but he didn’t manage to get it out. Instead he sighed deeply. “Just, I’ll see you guys later.”

“Woodrow, it’s going to be okay.” Eddie felt the underlying tension as he accepted his bag back. He frowned and kicked himself internally. Even if he knew that he’d done the right thing he still felt terrible for betraying a friend. “Really.”

“Whatever you say, Yank.” Woody was almost lifeless as he replied. There was just a bare wave as he headed off and through one of the main doors. His glasses took on a tint but he still turned away from the bright sun out there.

Quince sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. “Bollocks. I’m going to go after him. You did the right thing, Eddie. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve got faith in that. I’ll see you guys tomorrow eh?”

Jeff and Eddie waved as Quince headed off. Then there were to. The pair exchanged looks to one another before the mathematician glanced down at his backpack with a heavy sigh. He shook his head. “Seems like I’m cocking up everything lately.”

“Part of being alive.” Jeff sighed and shook his head. “Don’t worry; folks like Dick get his in the end. Wait… that didn’t sound right.”

Both of them laughed at the intentional pun. Eddie shook his head and sighed before shifting his backpack over one shoulder. The plastic bag inside crinkled. He nodded to his usually uptight friend. “I sure hope so. Well I’ve got to go check in with Eloise so… um… I’ll catch you around okay?”

As Jeff’s laughter faded his smile remained, and it was sly. He glanced over to the backpack and then to Eddie’s eyes. He lifted his chin in full approval. “You go do that. Just keep your nose clean okay? I’ll see you tomorrow. Say hello to her for me.”

“I will. Take care.” A handshake was shared before Eddie headed out the door himself and cut across the quad that wasn’t. As usual he hurried a bit and looked over his shoulder as he did so. It wasn’t because he was worried about Richard blindsiding him, even though he probably should be. There was that feeling of being watched that crept over him again. The breeze shifted as soon as he neared the middle so it was blowing against the back of his neck in a warm fashion, almost like breath. His skin pebbled but Eddie soldiered on. He suspected now that all sorts of terrible magic had to be wrapped up in the university, wards or some sort of bullshit like that. No one had even mentioned the damage done to Belle’s classroom a few days ago. Sure, Aphex and Tangent had put it back together as good as new by doing whatever it was that imps did. Still, it was odd that no one had noticed it in the first place. He kept expecting to be called into Hoffman’s office for a dressing down. Thankfully, that had yet to happen.

Pi had been sullen and withdrawn the last few days. He knew it was his fault. They’d still slept in the same bed but there was a gulf between them. The demoness hadn’t even woke him before she left this morning. Everything obviously wasn’t fine. That meant he had to make amends and get to the bottom of this. He recalled how his mother had sat him down the day after his father had giving him ‘the talk’, which was a few years too late in truth. Parents were always reluctant to talk to their kids about sex, never realizing they learned a lot about it just from going to school, hanging out with friends and the internet.

“Ed.” His mother had said. “I know your dad’s given you the basics. I want to clue you in on something very important. Men are always dumb and women are always contrary. If you don’t know what’s wrong assume she thinks it’s your fault – even if it’s not. That’s always a good place to start. I know that’s not fair, but it is the way it is, kiddo.”

So, whatever was wrong with Pi was his fault. Yes she’d said that she was fine about the whole Belle and him fucking, thing. She obviously wasn’t. So, it was time for him to take his medicine and the blame. It didn’t matter that Pi told him that him sleeping around was okay; she was a succubus after all. Women – apparently even those from Hell, were contrary.

As usual the library was hushed as Eddie slipped into it. While late afternoon sun streamed through a few open windows the central air had been cranked up high enough that it was actually a bit cold inside. He looked over to the central desk and waved to one of the student aids who were on duty. He made a silent gesture toward Pi’s office in question. In turn the somewhat pudgy girl shook her head and pointed downwards before giving him a smile. He nodded in thanks and held up the backpack. Once she nodded he moved over and once he took the plastic bag within out, set it down on the other side of the desk.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” The attendant smiled and went back to scanning books back in.

Eddie returned the expression before finding the stairs down into the lower stacks. He was amazed really that St. Agatha’s still housed books this way. Most modern libraries of any size had set their books away in sealed tubs and converted what they would to an electric format. It was just one more old-fashion thing about this school. As he moved down into the shadowed bowels of the building Eddie’s breath tightened. Nervousness crept through his blood and leached into his muscles. What if this didn’t work? He couldn’t bear the idea of Pi continuing to act this way, even more so her leaving. Logically he knew that she couldn’t leave until whatever devilish agenda she had here was finished. Still, that wasn’t the point.

The smell of her perfume mixed with the odor of old books. It tickled at the man’s senses and set his worries at ease. Everything was going to be okay, yeah it would. As long as he could pull this off right, which meant for once in his life being smooth. Practice made perfect didn’t it? He sure as hell hoped so, right now he’d settle for practice panning out to not being a fumbling idiot.

Pi had the radio on and was singing along to ‘Love is a Battlefield’ as she worked. Maybe singing along was too strong of a way to describe what she was doing. The succubus didn’t actually know a good third of the lyrics by heart. So, she was saying what she knew and sort of mouthing along to the rest. Out from one row of shelves the sexy and full figured woman danced in her usual white blouse, clinging skirt and white stockings. She wasn’t wearing shoes, her head of dark hair let down as she shook it to the music, along with her rump.

“Believe me, believe me I can’t tell you why but I’m trapped by your love and I’m chained to your side. “ Her warm voice added a certain erotic spice to the lyrics even if she couldn’t sing very well. She disappeared after crossing the main walkway into another row to put the book in her hand away. Eddie got the feeling this was as close as Pi got to ‘me time.’

The uncertainty rose within him again and he swallowed hard. Maybe he shouldn’t interrupt this? He could talk to her later, at the house. A shaky breath rattled out of Eddie as he stopped walking and looked down at the bag in his hand. He took out the simple bouquet and expensive chocolates he’d picked up on the way to class today. There was no way he could have afforded the confections and roses so he’d settled on a multitude of bright carnations. Maybe they’d not convey the right meaning he wanted to express… whatever that was.

Pi’s sultry, if off-key, voice echoed again. “But if we get much closer I could lose control and if your heart surrenders you’ll need me to hold.”

Eddie swallowed. He could do this. After all he’d just talked back to a jock that wanted to pound his face in. How much harder could saying I’m sorry be? He licked at his lips and with a hint of a strut headed to the hall of books Pi had gone down. If he walked the walk he might be able to talk the talk.

He’d half expected for her to come around the corner at the same time he did and they’d smash heads together. Life wasn’t a romantic comedy though, just one of errors. As the budding genius leaned against the shelves edge he watched her writhing against one of the many concrete pillars that held up the basement’s ceiling. Her sinful body was stretched with the curve of her heavy breasts bouncing, her arms stretched tall above her head. She wasn’t singing her heart out exactly but mouthing along to the last chorus with the most emphatic if silent expression. Her whole body jiggled as she used shifted her shoulders one way and then the other, using the column for support. It was a pretty cheesy dance, if still erotic because of how hot she was. Waves of sable hair washed against one another, the hem of her skirt rode up high enough to reveal milky thigh above the stocking, a few rivulets of sweat slithered down her all-too-scrumptious neck and her glasses had slid down to the end of her nose. It was like watching a kitten play with abandon with a length of string between its paws… so cute.

Eddie caught himself smiling in a smitten and stupid manner. He didn’t want to interrupt her reverie, especially with how sexy it was in its own silly way. Her bust strained against the thin fabric of her shirt, hips ground in a motion intimately familiar to the nerd. She let out a slow and relaxing breath as the song faded and a commercial for car insurance replaced it. The demoness raked at her dark mane until it was back in place, then turned to get back to work. She stopped short as her charge was standing there.

The two of them met gazes over the top of her glasses. As she pushed the cats-eye rims with faux-lens up she glanced down to the bunch of colorful flowers he had in one and the fancy wrapped dark chocolate in the other. The fog of her depression melted away like ice on a summer sidewalk. She purred before she could catch herself. “Are those for me?”

“Huh? Oh! Yeah.” He knew he’d planned to say something infinitely more romantic. That moment had passed, so he held up the flowers to her first. Both of her ink-stained hands wrapped around his as she took the bouquet from him. She buried her face in the rainbow of colors and inhaled deeply.

Eddie found himself smiling in relief. “I just. Well I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Immediately the infernal’s eyes became watery and she didn’t know why. They rose to look over the top of colorful petals and deep into his. She felt like she could look past the orbs of green and into the nerd’s very handsome soul. Pi smiled despite the tears that threatened. It was so bright it made her whole face crinkle up. She wiggled as giddy energy cascaded through her ever fiber. “No one has ever gotten me flowers before.”

“Well, it’s time that someone did.” Eddie coughed and scuffed one show against the floor. He couldn’t look away from the lovely picture of the upper half of Pi’s face over the top of the bouquet. He didn’t want to. “I’m just glad that someone is me.”

To be continued

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