Mr. Haifei only stared at Ilami once she finished her story. It was unnerving, more so when she felt the heat in the office heightened several degrees. Subconsciously, she wiped the sweat on her forehead. He might not say anything to her, but it was certain he wasn’t in a good mood.
‘Child,’ he finally said through gritted teeth. ‘Haven’t you learned from your mistake? Have your forgotten the demise you brought upon yourself with your foolishness? Two of your friends almost died. You thought with this plan you made with your teenage friends, you could do better? Or is it your wish to die?’
‘For Xesar’s sake, don’t overreact,’ Ilami said, trying to maintain her composure. She had never seen Mr. Haifei this angry. ‘Felaris and her friends know what they’re doing.’
He stood up. ‘And I know what they’ve done,’ he countered. ‘They went around this school interrogating students, acting as if no one would’ve known what they were doing. Be glad the ones who know are the ones who won’t report them to Venaria – or worse, the Church.’
Ilami blinked. She didn’t know about this.
‘All of you are dealing with something bigger than yourself. Foolish, foolish child.’ He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, then took a deep breath. ‘This plan of yours, when are you going to carry it out?’
‘Praise Serra!’ he said. ‘I can still stop your idiocy from being fully manifested. This is what you’re going to do. You will go to Gael and tell him there is a change of plan. Do not tell any of this to Felaris and her friends – especially Veris. I don’t trust him.’
‘I – ’ seeing the fire in Mr. Haifei’s eyes, Ilami didn’t continue. ‘Fine. Tell me what you’ve in mind.’
As Mr. Haifei told her the new plan, Ilami frowned. She didn’t like it at all. It involved lying to her Felaris and her friends – plus, she wasn’t sure Gael would’ve agreed to it. There was too much deceiving in this new plan.
‘Do you understand?’ Mr. Haifei said, finishing his explanation.
‘I do, but I don’t think we have to go that extreme,’ Ilami said, folding her arms.
Mr. Haifei looked at her as if she had just shrunk to the size of a child. ‘Do you expect it to be squeaky clean, brimming with moral? Once everything is over, your friends will understand. Now, go and persuade Gael to help you.’
‘He doesn’t know you like I did,’ Ilami said, frowning deeper. ‘Are you certain he’s going to trust you?’
‘You don’t trust me,’ Mr. Haifei said. ‘You gave me information because you knew I had better chances to stop the Church’s experimentation, and yet somewhere in you, you doubt me. Our common goal is the only thing that puts us in the same side. There are many things you don’t know about me.’
He tilted his head. ‘Who could be certain you know enough about Gael? The reason he doesn’t have a blessing, and the reason Venaria allowed him to study here? You haven’t thought about any of this, and yet you trust him, because you trust who he is in the present.’
Ilami gritted her teeth. She could just feel the needles Mr. Haifei slowly pushed into her skin. She opened the door behind her. ‘You’re wrong,’ she said, and left.
‘Um, let me understand this right,’ Gael said as he sat on his bed. ‘Mr. Haifei told you he was a spy from another church that coincidentally –‘ Ilami frowned at the word ‘– has the same goal as us. You wanted to be a part of the church – a part of this stopping-the-experimentation mission, in fact – and he rejected you because of how close you were with Mrs. Venaria, his enemy. For the last resort, you told him our plan and now, he asked you to tell me about his plan.’
He frowned. ‘I don’t know. I know I’m optimistic, but don’t you think you’re trusting him too early?’
‘I don’t trust him!’ Ilami said, sitting next to him. She rubbed her face, tired of rehashing what had happened. ‘It’s just – it’s obvious he has a better chance in this with Xesar’s church as his back up than us, mere students.’
Gael stroked his non-existent beard. ‘Hmm, you do have a point. Alright, I’m in.’ Seeing Ilami’s face lit up, he continued, ‘But only if we have a backup plan. One that is ours and ours only. I don’t want to risk Mr. Haifei backstabbing us after everything is over.’
Ilami nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, yes, of course.’ She grabbed Gael’s hand. ‘Now, we just need to act as if we’re still following Felaris’s plan. She can’t know about this. And that includes Veris and Seya.’
Gael nodded. ‘Understood.’
Ilami stayed there, watching him. There was no way he forgot the thing she asked.
He did. Of course he did. Sometimes men were clueless. ‘The thing between you and Haka. What happened?’
For some reasons, Gael’s face reddened. ‘Um, what are you talking about?’
‘At first, I thought the way both of you showed your affection on each other was only friendly in nature. But from what I saw last time when we were with Felaris and her friends – you being cheerful, Veris being crestfallen – I knew there was something more. Now, I can give you a reasonable guess, but I prefer you clear it for me. Makes everything easier.’
Gael held up his hands. ‘Okay, fine! I’ll tell you, but only if you – you know, don’t react negatively to this. Can you promise me that?’
The word rolled out of Ilami’s mouth like a pebble on a smooth sand hill. ‘But of course.’
‘I – Haka and I are a couple. We like each other.’ Gael shut his eyes as if he was waiting for something to come.
Ilami could only raise her eyebrows. ‘Oh. Oh, that’s why. I didn’t know I could be right in this. Interesting. Interesting, indeed.’
Gael opened his eyes slowly. ‘You’re… you’re not mad?’
Ilami blinked. ‘Why should I? Boys can like boys. I just learned it now.’
‘And you’re okay with that?’
Ilami gave it some thoughts. Mother, Jaxin – everyone in her family, in fact – never made it a point that a boy couldn’t love another. Perhaps it was because that wasn’t important in the family – both Alyosha and her weren’t interested in courtship and flings. Father led Alyosha in business while Mother shaped her to be an assassin. Now that she knew anything was possible, she had to make her own opinions about things.
‘I think – I think both of you are perfect for each other,’ Ilami said finally, smiling. ‘He helps you to be a better person and you him. While this is the first time I see such relationship, it’s not hard for me to see a couple of lovers that works.’
Gael smiled and took a nervous breath. ‘Is it?’ He paused. ‘And now I have to save him.’
‘And Aleveri. And you’re not going to do it alone.’ Ilami grabbed Gael’s hand. ‘For once, we finally have an adult to back us up.’
‘Hopefully it’s the right adult,’ Gael said.
‘Don’t ruin it,’ Ilami said, rolling her eyes. She looked at Secca’s bed. ‘Where’s Secca, anyway? We’ve been in your room quite a lot lately and I rarely saw him.’
‘He’s busy. Said something about a project. At least he’s occupied with his own matter.’ Gael looked at Ilami. ‘Can you keep being here? I long for company, now that Haka’s gone and Veris’s not talking to me –’
‘Hmm?’ Ilami raised her eyebrow. ‘Why isn’t he? He just has a crush on you but you don’t feel the same way, so surely he’d get the hint and move on.’
Gael’s mouth widened. ‘You caught on that too?’ He rubbed his temple. ‘Well, that’s not exactly how it happened.’
Another boy drama? To be honest, she’d prefer to not know about these things. Romance and jealousy weren’t her strongest department, and they didn’t interest her. There were other things much more important than those two. Like knowing what happened to Zivil’s dead son, for example. But this was Gael they were talking about, and like it or not, she had to listen to him as a friend. Well. Not everything could go her way. At the very least, she might learn something new from this… love triangle? … between Gael, Haka, and Veris.
‘Alright, alright. Spill it.’