Paradigm Shift 09

Gregor looked toward Park, ignoring the way Zero spluttered beside him. "How was your trip?" he asked brightly. "Did anything interesting happen?"

Park gave him the glimmer of a smile. "Nothing that I am free to speak of to you."

Gregor pouted. "Why do you have to be so cruel to me?" He smiled at the server that appeared in front of him with a long cart carrying soup filled bowls. "You could tell me something fun," he pleaded with Park.

"There wasn't much fun going on," Park said. "I went, I saw, I came back. Nothing much happened."

"Did you bring me anything at least?" Gregor teased, lifting his soup spoon and breathing in the rich aroma of spicy potato leek. They had barely just met. They were in no way close enough for presents.

Park dipped a bite of bread into his soup and popped it into his mouth. "In fact, I did bring you a gift. I'll get it for you later."

Gregor felt a rush of warmth go through him. "I do like prezzies," he said.

"You seem the sort." Park ignored Gregor's outraged look and calmly continued eating his soup.

Gregor lifted a spoonful of soup to his lips and slurped obnoxiously, just loud enough to catch Park's eye and not raise the ire of the people around them. He quieted after that and actually showed some manners with his food.

A few minutes into the meal, Zero said, "Would you like to join me for a show tomorrow night? Have you ever been to the theater before?"

Gregor glanced at him. He'd never been able to afford the theater, and he desperately wanted to go. But did he want it so much that he was willing to spend the time with Zero?

It wasn't that Zero was a bad guy or anything. He was just a bit too puppyish and that got on Gregor's nerves. The way everyone kept pushing them together didn't make it any better.

"I've never been to the theater before," Gregor said, glancing around the room to avoid Zero's hopeful eyes. "I think l would like to go." He looked back at Zero in time to be on the receiving end of a bright, nearly giddy smile. Every part of Zero showed on his face.

"We will have a wonderful time," Zero said. "They're performing Persephone's Lament and it's supposed to be absolutely brilliant."

"I'll arrange the tailors," Park said in his quiet way. Off Gregor's raised eyebrow, he shrugged, "You should look your best if you're being taken out in front of Society."

Gregor was oddly touched. "Thank you."

Park waved his hand. "You will enjoy the theater, that I promise you."

The rest of dinner passed quietly and Gregor was relieved. Having Park around made things run smoothly as Park seemed to have a sixth sense about when Gregor was about to lose control and go berserk. It was a truly awesome skill because Gregor never let his expression change.

Since he had entered the Duadenora Compound, he'd worn an expression of polite interest. It was his fallback expression when he didn't know what was expected of him. And he was definitely feeling out of his depth right now.

He'd been outed as a Third and the Duadenora wanted him to Bind with their simple albeit beautifully handome young heir. It was like some kind of cruel trick and he honestly had no clue what he was supposed to do.

The Duadenora were Very Important People while he'd always been less than nothing. He had tried to ride in under the radar and he'd never had very much money. And yet here he was, being wooed.

It was strange and surreal and probably should have been the most romantic thing to ever happen in his life. A powerful Family wanted *him*?

It seemed like some kind of fairy tale until he really thought about why they were willing to put up with him. It was because they had no other choice, not if they wanted to keep their Family around.

He was a Third. He was breeding material now that all the women had been sterilized by the Plague. He was one of the last hopes of humanity, and the particular hope of the Duadenora Family at the moment. It made him feel ill.

To be wanted, not for himself, but for what he could do. It was like something out of an old story of the Before Times. Yet nobody else wanted to admit how screwed up everything was, especially the part where he was being used as breeding stock for humanity.

It made him afraid for when the suppressants ran through his body and he was au naturale. Would he turn into the weak-willed Third of popular culture? Would he lose control of his own mind and become the pheromone pumping, sex starved baby maker he'd always been frightened of being?

"Hormones are a bitch," he whispered.

"What was that?" Park asked.

They were walking back to Gregor's suite after dinner. There was just something about the long, seemingly endless corridors that invited introspection.

"Nothing," Gregor said. He felt off his game, and he didn't know if it was just because he was in an unfamiliar place or if he was really losing control of himself. It was the kind of thing that needed to be considered.

Park gave him a quietly interested look, but let it go. "Are you excited about the theater tomorrow?" he asked instead.

Gregor snorted. "I've never been to anything like it, so I'm excited just for the newness factor." And the getting out and breathing some free air, though he didn't say that. "You're going with us, right?" he asked, suddenly nervous.

"I am to be your chaperone," Park said. "I don't know why you don't like Zero, though. He's a very nice boy."

"*Boy* is right," Gregor said. "He's like an eager puppy. It makes me feel weird, like I'm about to be some kind of abuser or something. No one should have eyes like that."

Park seemed surprised by his own snort of laughter. "You have a way with words. And yes, he does have puppy eyes." When he was amused, the hard angles that made up Park's face softened and a very non-puppyish sparkle entered his eyes.