Rebellious Hearts: Part Three
Just after noon, Nathan made his way across the Clan Chosen camp, heading for Aliya's tent. As he walked, rebellion members of all ages greeted him with respect and awe, making him feel awkward as he struggled to keep smiling and return their good wishes. Inside, his stomach was alive with butterflies, though, and not only because of the attention to which he was unaccustomed.
He was more nervous than he could ever recall feeling in his life as he drew nearer to Aliya's tent, clear across the camp from his own. He wondered if she had done that on purpose, wanting to be as far away from him as possible. He shook his head, knowing that such thoughts would not calm his nerves or make what he had to do any easier. He was on his way to his first lesson in the ways of the Askani that might well change his life, to be taught by the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
"Oath, why did I ever agree to this?" he mentally chided himself, spotting her tent just up ahead and pausing to think. He contemplated turning around and going back to the safety of his own tent, forgetting about the whole thing. He could claim to be ill, or tell her that something important had come up. He was certain one of his adoring disciples would carry the message to her without question. But even as he ran each excuse through his mind, he knew that he could not possibly use them. He had to go on and do as he said he would.
"You fear that backing down now will prove that Tetherblood is correct," Professor said as Nathan stood still and gazed ahead at her tent, his mind racing with possibilities.
"So what if I do? I'm not afraid of her! Or her Askani ideas! I'm just... a little nervous, maybe."
"Understandable. But you will do it anyway."
"Of course! Because, as Tetherblood so nicely put it, I'm arrogant and stubborn, and I'll be damned if I let him have his laughs at my expense!"
Nathan frowned, then took a deep breath and began walking again, marching directly over to Aliya's tent with a look of determination on his face. He was not about to back down now, not when it would look like such a show of weakness on his part. Besides, Aliya was right in that he was expected to learn the things she had to teach, and that he had come a long way for the same reason. Summoning all of his courage, he reached the entrance of her tent and paused a moment before calling out for her.
He folded his arms and stared nervously at the closed flap of her tent, able to sense that she was indeed inside. She didn't answer right away, only serving to add to his discomfort. He wondered bitterly if she was doing it on purpose. Just as he was about to call her name again, he heard her voice carry out to him.
"Nathan? Come in!"
"Well, here goes nothing. And I do mean nothing..."
Nathan reached out and pulled back the flap of the tent, ducking slightly as he entered and closed it securely behind him. Once he had done so, he turned around and found Aliya to be kneeling on the ground before a small table, several candles already lit atop it. She lit the final candle before turning to face him, smiling slightly.
"I didn't think you would really come," she said, gracefully seating herself on a blanket she had laid out on the floor of the tent and folding her legs before her. Nathan watched her every movement before realizing that he was staring. He roughly shook his head to break the spell, coughing nervously as he hoped she hadn't noticed.
"Huh? What do you mean by that?" he demanded, finally realizing that she had just spoken to him.
"Just that I thought you'd back out and find some excuse or other." She shrugged casually, smoothing out the blanket on which she sat.
"I would not!" Even as he made the statement, he felt his face color as he recalled the excuses he had planned out in his head and considered just moments before. "I said I would come to do this and I meant it."
"Well, I'm still surprised," Aliya said, raising an eyebrow at him as he stood awkwardly above her just inside the entrance of the tent. "So, are you just going to stand there all day or what? Come in and take your shoes off."
Nathan narrowed his eyes at her as he kicked his shoes off into a corner of the tent, growing angry even as he noted the attractiveness of her features and the sparkle in her eyes. "You didn't exactly tell me what to do yet. You're supposed to be the teacher here, after all. So teach me."
Aliya sighed with annoyance, rolling her eyes as she clasped her hands with frustration. "I can tell this is going to be a long afternoon. Sit." She gestured with one hand to a space on the blanket directly across from her, regarding him with an expression of superiority.
"There?" Nathan asked, noting how close to her that would place him.
"No, go sit in the woods and let the sparrows teach you! Of course there!" Aliya threw up her hands, shaking her head as she glared at him fiercely. He briefly feared she could burn a hole right through his chest and swallowed nervously.
"Oh... right," he stumbled, stepping a bit closer and awkwardly lowering himself to sit across from her. He remained several feet away, too embarrassed to come any closer to her. He folded his legs in front of him so that the bottoms of his feet touched, copying her position as best he could.
"I'm not contagious, you know," Aliya said, shaking her head again. "If you sat any farther away you might as well go back to your own tent."
"Closer? Oh," Nathan said, clumsily shifting himself forward until he was only about a foot away from her. He knew his face was red, and he was so humiliated by her authoritative tone that he nearly stood and left, retreating to the safe solitude of his own tent. Instead, he forced himself to adjust his position and take a deep breath. He was not about to let her win this battle of wills by chasing him off.
"Look," Aliya said, still wearing an expression of annoyance. "In order to do this properly, we need to... hold hands. My arms are not quite long enough to reach you from there."
"We have to what?!" Nathan exclaimed before realizing he had voiced the thought.
"Is your hearing going?" Aliya asked with a heavy sigh. "I said we have to hold hands. And don't look so disgusted. I wash them several times a day."
"I didn't mean that," Nathan muttered, looking down into his lap self-consciously as he again shifted a bit closer, until he was only inches away from her. Their feet nearly touched as they sat with their legs folded before them, and each looked away in embarrassment at the closeness. Nathan squirmed and wrung his hands in his lap, wishing to be anywhere else but where he was at that moment.
"Okay, now that we finally got that settled," Aliya said, finally looking back at him, though avoiding his eyes. "Give me your hands." She held out her own, palms facing up, until they nearly rested on the tops of his knees. Nathan stared at her slim, graceful hands for long moments before slowly reaching out with his right hand and softly laying it atop her left. As her fingers lightly curled around his, he felt a warmth spread through his chest as he stared in amazement. Her soft skin was warm and strangely comforting as she held his hand, almost allowing him to forget his worries.
Aliya cleared her throat a moment later, bringing him back to reality as he glanced up and into her eyes. "I said your hands. As in both of them."
Nathan's eyes widened as a panicked thought spread through his mind. He glanced down at his left arm, which still rested at his side, the living metal reflecting the candle light onto the fabric of the tent. He had managed to allow Aliya to hold his good hand, but how could he ever expect her to want to hold his other one? He swallowed hard, slowly lifting his left arm as his stomach twisted in knots. In his mind, he pictured her recoiling from his touch and asking him to leave, not wanting to have to be near someone as imperfect and flawed as he was.
As he shakily began to reach out to her, his other hand still firmly held in hers, he was surprised to hear Aliya's voice in his head, her tone unusually gentle and comforting.
"Don't be embarrassed about your arm," she told him, her eyes meeting his as she reached out and took his techno-organic hand, wrapping her fingers around it until she held it as tightly as the other. "It doesn't make you any less of a person and it doesn't make me look at you any differently."
"Really?" Nathan asked hopefully before he could stop himself, looking at their joined hands with a growing sense of peace. "It's just that it looks so different, and I know it must feel a little strange..."
"It's not important, Nathan. You can't help it, and it's part of who you are."
Looking away as her cheeks grew more and more red, Aliya cleared her throat, continuing to hold both of Nathan's hands as they faced each other. "Now, we're ready to begin."
"What exactly does that mean?" he asked, shifting his weight a bit as he tried to adapt to the position in which they sat. His feet were beginning to fall asleep, and he briefly feared that his right hand would sweat from his nervousness and the warmth of the candles nearby. He wondered if Aliya thought he was handsome, finding himself hoping that she did despite his own insistence that he didn't like her. "What's wrong with me?" he wondered before managing to focus on Aliya's words.
"Well, today I am going to teach you our most basic technique, which is a form of meditation," Aliya said, speaking with a practiced confidence as if she did so every day. "I'm going to teach you how to relax your body so that your mind can guide you. After you've mastered that, you will be ready to learn more."
"That sounds easy enough," Nathan said, nodding. Aliya frowned, shaking her head scoldingly.
"It seems your first lesson will have to be to lose your arrogance," she said in a strict tone. "If you think this is going to be something easy you can just walk right into and master, you're going to be in for a big disappointment."
"Why, how long did it take you?"
"Do you have to make everything a contest? I began when I was younger, and even now I'm hardly considered to be a master of anything."
Nathan sighed, wishing he could pull his hands out of hers and put some distance between them. She spoke to him with such authority that he could hardly stand it, not used to anyone taking that tone with him. It was he who was supposed to be in charge, he who always led. Nathan Dayspring was not a follower, and not accustomed to being told what to do. He did things his way, regardless of what other people thought. But now, Aliya was giving the orders, and he found himself following her without his usual brashness and rebellious air. He sighed with frustration at himself, then looked back at Aliya curiuosly.
"Fine, just go ahead and show me what to do."
"I can't really 'show' you in the usual way," she said, sounding a bit nervous. "I have to teach you telepathically. That's going to require us to link minds."
Nathan's eyes widened in surprise and fear. "Mind link? As in letting you go inside my head and see my thoughts?" A panic spread through his head and into his heart, causing it to pound faster in his chest. If they mind linked, she would see all of his pain, his self doubts, his insecurities... and worst of all, she would see the feelings of attraction he had toward her that he was trying so hard to hide and deny.
Aliya nodded. "Yes, though you'll be able to see as much of my mind as I see of yours. I know it must seem a little intimidating to share your mind with someone you hardly know. I remember when I had to do this for the first time. And honestly, I'm still nervous about it any time I link with someone for the first time."
"So you do this all the time?"
"No! Your mind is a private thing not to be casually shared with many others. I've had several teachers, though, during my training. I guess I've probably linked with three or four of them. But never with a--" She stopped abruptly, blushing bright red as she looked down into her lap.
"With a man?" Nathan asked in a teasing tone, grinning even as he own face flushed.
"You are hardly a man," Aliya said defensively, trying to hide her discomfort. Nathan's mouth dropped open, a flash of anger crossing his face.
"I am so! I'm eighteen!"
"You don't act it."
"As if you're so mature!"
"I am compared to you! Pirate!"
"Oath! That's it! I'm leaving!" Nathan began to pull his hands from Aliya's, a frown on his face and fire in his eyes. "I'm not mind linking with someone I can't stand!"
"Wait, wait!" Aliya shouted, gripping his hands more tightly in hers. Nathan paused, and although he could have overpowered her easily, he allowed her to hold onto him for the moment. "I... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Please don't go."
"You mean that? We don't have to do this," Nathan said, his eyes holding suspicion and a lingering anger.
"I mean it. I want to teach you, Nathan."
Nathan sighed, settling back into his position and taking a calming breath. "All right, then. I'm sorry I yelled at you, too."
Aliya smiled slightly, her grip on his hands relaxing. "So it's all right for me to mind link with you, then?"
Nathan frowned, thinking hard for long moments. Linking with her was a great risk as far as he was concerned. If she saw some of his feelings and memories, she might think he was weak and strange. She might never want to speak to him again. He wasn't sure he was capable of sharing his feelings with another after all he'd experienced in his life, and especially not with her.
"How much... how much will you see if we link?"
"I won't be probing your mind or anything like that," Aliya said in a reassuring tone. "I just need to be inside your mind to show you how to relax and meditate. All I'll see is what's on the surface of your thoughts, for the most part. I won't have access to any of your memories or things you consciously keep hidden."
Nathan nodded. "That doesn't sound so bad, I guess." Inside, he tried his best to relax. She would only see his surface thoughts, after all. If he could keep the more embarrassing and private things off of his mind, everything would be fine.
"It's not that big a deal," Aliya agreed. "This should be easier since you're telepathic as well. I'll lead, though, because I've done this before, and because I'm the teacher." She looked at Nathan as if she expected him to protest, but he said nothing, simply nodding his head.
"Well, okay," he said, surprisingly agreeable. "Whenever you're ready then."
Aliya nodded, sitting up a bit straighter. "Okay. First, close your eyes. Forget about the outside world and concentrate only on yourself and your own mind."
Nathan paused, a few last doubts passing through his thoughts. Finally, he took a deep breath and did as he was told, tightly closing his eyes and trying to relax.
"And yes, I'm closing mine, too," Aliya said in a mocking tone. "Don't think I want to sit here and stare at you or something."
Nathan smiled, keeping his eyes closed. "I didn't say anything." He could almost feel Aliya rolling her eyes as she sat across from him, slightly adjusting her grip on his hands.
"Now," she said, serious once again, "Clear your mind of everything, until it is at rest. I'm going to link with you now, so get your dirty thoughts hidden away."
"I don't have dirty thoughts!" Nathan said indignantly, immediately opening his eyes. He found Aliya, her eyes still closed, grinning with amusement.
"Keep your eyes closed," she scolded, somehow knowing that he had broken the rule. "I was kidding, but since you're so easily distracted, I'll be serious now."
Nathan sighed, looking her over for a moment before closing his eyes again. Her face was so delicate and attractive, yet she had a will and strength of character to easily rival his own. He had a brief urge to reach out and touch her cheek, wanting to know if it was as soft as it looked. He scolded himself for the slip, then closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind as she had instructed him to.
A moment later, Nathan felt a slight tingling in his mind, realizing that Aliya was beginning to link with him. He swallowed nervously, afraid of being so vulnerable to her. He concentrated on keeping his thoughts hidden, not wanting her to know of his private hopes and fears. He could feel her thoughts lightly brush against his, as if she was knocking on the door and he refused to open it. After another minute, her frustrated telepathic voice filled his head.
"Why are you fighting the link?" she asked with mild annoyance. "You're not making this very easy for me. I'm getting a headache already."
"I... I'm sorry. I just don't want you to see some things..."
"I told you I won't pry. But I can't help you if you keep shoving me out."
Nathan mentally sighed, willing himself to relax. "Fine. Go ahead. I won't fight you any more." He forced his worries from his mind and did his best to remain calm. This time, when he felt Aliya's presence on the boundaries just outside his mind, he resisted his urge to close off his thoughts and allowed her to enter.
He tried not to panic as he felt her presence in his mind, remembering the way in which he had let Redd, his adopted mother, do the same thing years before. He realized that this was very different, though. He was older now and had more to hide. And mind linking with your adopted mother was far different from doing so with someone you found yourself strongly attracted to, after all.
"Umm, Nathan," Aliya's telepathic voice said, sounding embarrassed. "I'll just remind you now that we're linked and I can sense your thoughts..."
"Oh... yeah... I know!" He felt himself blush, wondering how much of his last thought she had gotten. He could feel the link between them now, her strength and confidence filling his mind, along with her surface thoughts of concentration and determination to teach him. He wondered what his mind felt like to her, then quickly banished the thought, fearing she'd sensed it.
"I can tell you're nervous," Aliya said through their link, answering the question he hadn't been able to hide. "But you have a lot of potential to grow very strong in your abilities and in the teachings."
"Um... thanks," Nathan stumbled.
"Now," Aliya said, trying to regain her position as teacher. "Concentrate on yourself and clear your mind. Forget about where you are. Forget you even have a body. Think only about relaxing your mind, like smoothing the ripples on the surface of a lake."
Nathan attempted to do as she said, trying his best to forget about his body and concentrate on his mind. He tried to ignore the constant pain caused by his virus and think about relaxing, escaping from his physical constraints. But no matter how hard he tried, thoughts of Aliya and how close they were at the moment kept surfacing and breaking his concentration. Her mind was warm and confident, her emotions balanced and comforting as they mixed with his own. Her face flashed through his mind, and he thought again of how beautiful she was. She was perfect from head to toe. Her eyes were vibrant, and her skin was pure and glowed with life. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch her, to pull her body closer to him and feel her warmth. He felt himself smile, breaking his focus.
"Nathan!" Aliya's surprised voice shouted in his head. "What... what are you doing?!"
"Huh?" he asked, snapping back to attention. He suddenly realized what he had been thinking about and gasped, his face growing hot with embarrassment. "Oh.... oops?"
"Stop that! You... you have to clear your mind for this to work!" Aliya said in a tense, shrill tone, as if she hoped to ignore the affectionate thoughts she had sensed coming from him. He felt her grip on his hands tighten as feelings of embarrassment and discomfort radiated from her through their link.
"Right. I... I'm sorry. I'll try again."
Nathan was mortified. He knew something like this would happen! He had slipped and let her see how he felt about her. He wanted desperately to break the link and run away, never to face her again. But inside he knew he couldn't, taking a deep breath and vowing not to lose control again. Aliya remained silent, concentrating on her own meditation and regaining her control.
Just as Nathan began to clear his mind and relax again, an image suddenly floated into his consciousness. A picture of himself and Aliya wrapped in each other's arms and engaged in a passionate kiss flashed through his mind, accompanied by a strong feeling of attraction. He flushed, trying to clear his mind again before Aliya noticed, when he suddenly realized that the thought was not his own, but hers. He could sense her thoughts as she wondered how it would feel to have his arms around her before a deep feeling of embarrassment and guilt washed over him through their link.
"Aliya?" he asked in shock as the image passed, leaving his hands shaking with nervousness and embarrassment, as well as a hopeful excitement he couldn't quite contain. "You... I mean... that..."
"Quiet! You're distracting me!" Her voice was harsh and defensive, and Nathan wondered if it was because she knew what she had done and was embarrassed. He almost smiled, but found himself too sick with nervousness.
"But you were the one who just thought about u--"
"I said be quiet! Just... just concentrate!"
Inside, Nathan was filled with a mixture of surprise and happiness. She had thought about them kissing! Did that mean she liked him as much as he liked her? Could they stop being enemies now and admit it? Did someone like her really find him attractive? Was that even possible? His mind raced with possibilities and doubts, until her mental voice cut into his thoughts.
"I told you to stop that!"
"Sorry, but I just wanted to know why-- Ah, never mind."
Nathan had no idea how he'd ever be able to concentrate now, after such thoughts had passed between them. He had never kissed anyone before, or ever really wanted to. But now, sitting so close to her, it was all he could think about. With his eyes closed, he pictured her face and smiled, growing more relaxed with the idea that he was indeed attracted to her. A moment later, Aliya sighed heavily both physically and telepathically.
"This isn't working, Nathan. My concentration is destroyed now." She spoke with annoyance, as if it were his fault alone that they were unable to clear their minds. Nathan was a little irritated by it, but didn't say anything, too excited over what had happened between them to protest.
"This is a little harder than I expected," he admitted in reply. "But I'd still like to try and learn this with you."
"All right... Well, maybe we can try again tomorrow, then?" He tried to read her tone of voice, wondering if she was as excited by the idea as he was. He found that she was carefully containing her emotions, though, leaving him confused and desperately hoping to learn how she felt.
"That sounds fine," Nathan quickly agreed, and immediately he felt Aliya gently slip out of his mind, pulling back into herself and breaking the link. An odd sense of emptiness spread over him as her thoughts and feelings vanished from his mind, and he frowned, quickly adjusting to the change. He decided that being linked had been nice, a welcome change from his usual isolation and lonliness. He found himself already looking forward to his next lesson with her, if only so that they could be together.
"Well," Aliya said aloud, slowly pulling her hands out of his and sliding back a few inches on the blanket. Nathan assumed it was his cue to open his eyes and did so, finding Aliya to be watching him awkwardly, her face still flushed. He smiled slightly, gratefully unfolding his legs and stretching a bit.
"I guess I failed my first test, huh?" He kept his tone light, but inside, he was humiliated at his inability to perform an exercise as simple as clearing his mind.
"Well, it was partially my fault, too," Aliya admitted to his surprise. "I wasn't focussed today, and that didn't help. Maybe tomorrow will be better."
"Yeah, I hope so. Uh, if you want, you can come to my tent this time tomorrow....?" Nathan asked the question hopefully, preparing to be rejected even before she spoke.
"Sure, I'd like that," Aliya said, standing up and taking a few steps to work the stiffness out of her legs. Nathan stood as well, watching her for a moment before she turned back to him.
"I guess I'll go find Tetherblood and see if he came up with any more firewood like he was supposed to," he said casually, hiding the thrill he felt over her agreement to meet with him again. Nathan didn't want to leave her now, but couldn't think of a good reason to linger any longer. Offering her a small smile, he turned and exited her tent after bidding her goodbye, making his way back toward his own.
As he walked along, he grinned widely, feeling as if he were floating in the clouds. An unexplainable joy and giddiness filled his chest, making him want to skip along and tell everyone he knew how wonderful Aliya was. He didn't, of course. He had worked too hard to keep his image of control to allow for that. Instead, he settled for daydreaming of her and excitedly wondering what might happen next, until he finally spotted Tetherblood sitting under a nearby tree. Glad to have found his friend, Nathan broke into a jog and made his was over, nearly bursting with happiness.
"Tetherblood!" Nathan shouted, causing his friend to look up with a start. He had been absently picking at a blade of grass and hadn't heard Nathan's approach.
"Oath, don't scare me like that, Dayspring! I thought you were the Canaanites for a moment there!" Tetherblood said, slightly annoyed, as he dropped the blade of grass and held one hand over his heart. When he looked up at Nathan and saw the wide grin on his face, however, his brow furrowed suspiciously, eyes holding a question before he voiced it. "What are you so happy about?"
"Oh, nothing," Nathan said with over-exaggerated innocence, smiling even more widely. Tetherblood's interest was piqued by then, though, and he agilely hopped to his feet, coming to stand face to face with his friend.
"Nothing? Ha! You don't get happy like this over nothing. Over anything, actually. What's going on?"
"Nothing you'd be interested in, T. It's personal." Nathan grinned teasingly, knowing he was goading his friend and enjoying it. Tetherblood folded his arms, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Come on, tell me! It must be something good if you're smiling like that!"
Nathan chuckled, watching Tetherblood fidget excitedly as he watched him with a curious intensity. "It's nothing, I'm telling you. Nothing at all."
Tetherblood opened his mouth to further his protesting, but suddenly paused as his eyes lit up with realization. "It's about her isn't it? It is!"
Nathan grinned, unable to contain himself any longer. "Well, actually... yeah. I was just at her tent! She was teaching me how to meditate."
Tetherblood grinned slyly. "Yeah, sure she was, Dayspring. Are you sure that's all you two were doing?"
"Yes, that's all! But we did have to hold hands and link minds..."
Tetherblood grinned more widely, following after Nathan as he turned and began to walk away, back toward his own tent. "Hey, hey, wait up! You can't just leave me hanging like that! What else happened?"
Nathan paused and allowed him to catch up before continuing to walk, still grinning like a fool. He was enjoying this far too much not to finish the tale. "Well, I think she likes me! She's coming to my tent tomorrow."
"Great! Didn't I tell you? I knew you two liked each other!"
Nathan suddenly frowned, his insecurities rising to drown out his blissful excitement for a moment. "But how can you be sure that a girl likes you? I mean, it's not like she told me she does or anything happened."
Tetherblood looked thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Well, in my experience, girls like you when they pretend to hate you. And she sure has been pretending to hate your guts, Dayspring!"
"Well, great..." Nathan muttered doubtfully, looking down at his feet.
"No, but that's good! It works the other way, too, which is how I knew you liked her. And I can tell by the way you look at each other, too."
"Yeah, really! I think you're perfect for each other. You're both stubborn and neither one of you ever shuts up." Tetherblood grinned mischievously so Nathan would know he was joking, causing his friend to playfully punch him in the arm.
"Well, I kind of thought maybe she liked me... because when we were mind linked she sort of... thought about kissing me," Nathan said, smiling proudly even as his cheeks blushed red.
Tetherblood's eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open in surprise. "Nate! You're kidding, right?" Nathan shook his head, his expression one of superiority.
"I think she might know I like her, too," he said, his voice excited and hopeful. "I told you I wasn't afraid of her!"
"So you did," Tetherblood admitted, now nearly as excited as Nathan was. "I'm proud of you, Dayspring. I taught you well."
"You taught me? You did not!"
"Sure I did! You learned from watching a master at work with the ladies."
"That's a load of pipe and you know it!"
"Oh, come on! Don't you remember those girls in that milk bar? They were all over me!" Tetherblood grinned at the memory, even as Nathan snickered and shook his head, smiling with amusement.
"Because they wanted to rob you! And they did! Remember who saved you?"
"Aww, shut up," Tetherblood said, and they both burst into helpless fits of laughter. Continuing their friendly banter, the two made their way across camp, teasing each other good-naturedly and laughing at their shared memories.
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