“He’s around here somewhere,” a sarcastic and gruff voice growled. Hosib.
Yonatin hated Hosib.
The only thing worse than hearing his voice, though, was that damn, fucking pronoun he used for Yonatin.
Yonatin was hiding under a desk, and the group of bullies were absolutely going to find them, and they knew it.
Here’s the thing about Yonatin in regards to that pronoun. It was given to them by the state despite everything about them. But, also, they were alive despite everything about them. Yonatin didn’t know it yet, but they were what the state called “intersex”. And normally, intersex infants were destroyed. But somehow that hadn’t happened, and Yonatin had been designated “male” and assigned to a life of masculine duties.
But, by the time they were hiding under that desk, staring intently at a dust bunny and trying to will their tormentors to pass this room by, they did know one thing about themselves as assuredly as anything they could place their hand on. And that was that that pronoun didn’t fit.
It was Hosib’s pronoun, not Yonatin’s.
Another thing that didn’t fit all that well was their body, but they couldn’t really explain why or how. It was simultaneously comfortable enough and so constraining. It felt like a skin tight suit that had no stretch. And Yonatin found themselves gently, slowly pushing their back up against the cool metal of their teacher’s desk just for the sense of the pressure. Soothing, unyielding. It was a heavy, heavy desk. And in that moment, they felt something they hadn’t really felt before.
It was like they had wings growing out of their back, stretching, becoming full, right through the mass of the desk. And a tail extending out and curling around a desk leg. And it was such a vivid sensation, they felt as if they could feel the cold desk leg with their tail, they became immediately afraid they could be seen.
What the hell? they thought, and felt themselves take a quick breath in panic. Am I a demon?
That sound, that breath, is what betrayed them.
“Ha!” Hosib barked. “Got ‘im!”
And Yonatin heard the boots of three larger teenagers barge into the room as the already half open door was slammed against the wall.
Hosib’s oily fucking face appeared with a sneer in the frame of the desk’s legroom, where Yonatin was hiding. Right in Yonatin’s right ear, breath stinking of onions and meat, Hosib growled, “You’re dead.”
It would have been a blessing if Yonatin had been a demon. If the claws and teeth that they’d felt growing too had manifested for real, they could have torn Hosib, Gabel, and Manff completely apart, and spread them around the classroom messily, mixing up their bits.
What would the Gendarms have done once that horror was found, though? Would Yonatin’s demonic form have survived gunfire?
In their very heart, Yonatin felt ready to tear apart the entire ship, but none of that had happened, except in their head.
Instead, they ended up in the infirmary again. And, no doubt, they, not their bullies, would be charged with cleaning and straightening up the classroom. Probably before they were even fully healed and ready to do so.
Which is how it always went.
Lying on the cot, nurses ignoring them, the smell of iodine sharp in their nose, they counted their bruises by ache. They didn’t move. They just stared at the textures of the plaster ceiling, and counted in their head as they focused on each painful part of their body. Left shin. Right thigh. Right gut. Rib, rib, rib, rib. Back of the left shoulder. Both triceps. Back of the head. Their skin stung where they’d been cut and scraped by desks, rings, rulers, and such. But it had been the boots that had landed the hardest blows, the memorable ones.
Small, cool fingers wrapped themselves around Yonatin’s wrist just before a familiar face leaned into view.
Yonatin closed their eyes and sighed deeply.
“I hate them,” Angu said, simply. No indication of saying more. It was his way.
“Yeah,” Yonatin said. “You do a better job of avoiding them, too.”
“You could, too,” Angu said.
They were siblings, twins, which was why Angu was even allowed to be here. But they didn’t look much alike. Fraternal twins, the teachers said. Where Yonatin was tall and willowy, Angu was short and a little stout. They looked like a pair of cartoon characters from a picture book, just a little cliched in their contrasts. Angu’s hair had tighter curls and he kept it shorter, too. Yonatin liked theirs long, and it was loose enough that it would wave in the wind like a hungry barnacle’s foot. But everyone still knew they were twins, and family, and that was the thing that got Angu through the infirmary’s door.
It wasn’t that Yonatin was so badly injured that anyone had to be careful. It was just the rules.
And if there was one thing anyone could rely on in this life, it was rules.
They weren’t fair. They were often designed specifically to fuck up the life of anyone like Yonatin, but they were always consistent.
For instance, since it was their blood on the desks of the classroom, and their body that had moved the desks, it would be their job to clean up the mess.
And Angu, being family, could be here.
Yonatin shook their head, and mumbled, “It’s too late for that. They know me now. They know I’m wrong, somehow. They won’t stop.” They crumpled up their face, still not opening their eyes. “You’re the good twin.”
Angu moved his hand up onto Yonatin’s forearm and then drew it back down to their wrist, and said, “Oh, no I’m not.”
“What do you mean?” Yonatin asked, opening their eyes to glance at their brother.
Furtively eying the nurses, Angu said, “I’ll tell you later. When you’re cleaning up.”
Since Yonatin hadn’t been the aggressor, and was not getting the punishment specifically meted out to bullies, they’d get to clean up the classroom without surveillance. But without help from the staff, either. It’d be a good time for Angu to share a secret, their brother apparently thought.
It was probably true.
What they said to each other might go on the ship’s records, but nobody would bother checking them, unless there was a further incident there.
Later, then, in the classroom, while Yonatin was wiping down a desk with a fluid soaked rag, Angu leaned his lower back against the teacher’s desk and twisted his mouth to the side. The windows were wide open, letting sunlight stream in as the orb of plasma marched toward the Terra Supreme’s aft endcap.
“Why do they know you’re ‘wrong’?” Angu asked.
“Oh, you fucking know,” Yonatin answered.
“Yeah, well, say as much of it as you can,” Angu retorted. Not exactly in a mean way, but definitely prodding, probably leading.
Yonatin shrugged, “I act weird. I look weird. Pretty simple.”
“You’ve also started flinching every time someone uses your name or… you know,” Angu pointed out.
Yonatin stopped what they were doing and looked Angu right in the eye, and said, “Yeah.”
Angu didn’t blink like he would if anyone else had looked him in the eye. The two of them could do that with each other without being overwhelmed. But they both usually looked away if anyone else made eye contact. It was one of the few ways they felt like actual twins.
“If you calmed down and relaxed, you could stop flinching,” Angu suggested.
“I can’t do that.”
Yonatin threw the rag down into the bucket of cleaning fluid and stood up, “It’s – It’s just impossible. You know how I am! I just can’t stop thinking about shit. I’m always wound up.”
“Worried about worrying about worrying,” Angu nodded.
“It’s more than that. You’ve told me.”
“Right,” Yonatin confirmed, then started pushing the desk back into its place, but stopped to face Angu again. “Common, man, what are you trying to get at?”
Angu shrugged and kicked at a piece of chalk that was on the floor. “I get it.”
“Get what?” Yonatin demanded.
Angu looked up at the clock and said, “We’re almost seventeen. We’re getting our implants soon. I wonder what that’s going to be like.”
Implants. Yeah, that was scaring Yonatin quite a bit, and it made sense Angu would be worried about it.
A couple months ago, when Yonatin had explained their own infuriating cycling thoughts, their ruminations, Angu had originally looked confused, and the two of them learned about one more of their major differences then. Comparing notes, they learned that while Yonatin had extremely vocal thoughts, words flooding their mind all the time, Angu was the type whose thoughts didn’t have words until they were already coming out of his mouth. And so it had been hard for Angu to imagine what Yonatin was going through. But that didn’t mean Angu couldn’t worry. He just tended to be quieter about it, apparently.
And one thing they had wondered about together was just what they would be able to share once they got their implants, their neural terminals. Would they eventually be able to show each other what their own thoughts were like?
But the surgery to install the technology, which their parents were paying for, was scary as fuck. It involved installing millions of filaments into their brains. Almost nobody died from it, at least.
For how shitty their life had been, Yonatin was still having trouble believing that they’d be privileged enough to get an implant, though. Not everyone could afford it. Not everyone was allowed.
Later, much later, they’d figure out that that privilege was part of the reason they were alive in the first place. But, not yet.
Was Angu worried about the surgery, or something else? Yonatin expected there was more because of how cagey Angu was being.
Angu sighed at the clock, and said, “Being ‘sirred’ really sucks, doesn’t it?” His hands were in his pockets as he looked back at Yonatin and smirked, raising a single eyebrow. Angu was one of the only two other people in the whole ship that knew Yonatin’s real pronoun was “they/them”.
Yonatin squinted in mild confusion and tilted their head. So many questions wandered across their mind, but they wanted to give Angu a taste of their own communication style.
Angu mouthed silently, “I’m a girl.” And then a look of abject terror flashed across his – her face. Angu glanced around furtively, and then tried that smirk again.
Yonatin’s blood ran cold at the same time they felt their heart leap in their chest with joy. And then their mind really began to churn with words. Questions. Worries. Worries about being caught worrying. About being caught as trans by their very own neural terminal. Worries about Angu now, too.
It had been known to happen.