Author's Note: Using manga Mana and Mahaado. They be blonds, damn it, and Mana isn't a childish ditz. Manga snob? Why ever would you say that?
"Draw the rune for fire."
Mana looked down at the blank sheet of papyrus before her, then across the table to where her teacher was sitting. Mahaado had the same serious expression he always had at the beginning of their lessons. If she did well, the expression would soften into a smile of satisfaction and pride. If she didn't, it would fade into concern and exasperation as it became more and more obvious someone hadn't been keeping up with her studies.
Mana had a feeling the change towards the latter would come quickly today. "Ah, yes… The rune for fire," she repeated slowly, trying to buy herself some time to recall her previous lesson on runes. Unfortunately, the only thing she could remember was squirming in her chair and thinking 'ugh, this is boring' over and over. "Let me think…"
"It was on the second scroll I showed you yesterday, the one on the basic elements," Mahaado prompted, as if that would actually be of help.
"Right, the second scroll," Mana said out loud. Inwardly, she panicked. There had been more than one scroll? How many were there?
Mahaado had a gift for perception that served him well as the bearer of the Sennen Ring and guardian of the tombs. While his Item would give him warnings and show him the general way, it was up to him to interpret those warnings and find the specific location of the threat. He could read the lay of the land and sense what was out of place. He could look into a crowd of people and pick out the subtle, nervous movements of the guilty.
He could tell when his student was completely clueless and stalling for time. "Perhaps it would be beneficial to review the scroll?"
Mana jumped at the offer. "I believe that would be helpful, yes."
Mahaado got up and went to the shelf where the needed scroll was stored. When he returned, he handed it to Mana before taking up position to watch over her shoulder.
Mana dutifully unrolled the scroll. She smoothed it out over the table, checking to see if any of the symbols looked familiar. They didn't. She moved her finger over the different runes, hoping for some kind of cue from Mahaado to help her determine which one was the right one. He, however, wasn't about to make such a slip up.
"All right," she finally admitted. "I don't know a fire rune from random scribbling. Which one is it?"
He leaned over and pointed at a figure in the middle. Tracing it with the tip of his finger, he began delivering a lecture nearly identical to the one he had given yesterday. It was something about the properties of the rune. Apparently, it had many uses too. Mana wasn't sure; she was listening as intently to this lesson as she had the previous.
It wasn't boredom that was distracting her this time. She was, instead, very acutely aware of her teacher's arm, or rather that her teacher's arm was connected to her teacher's shoulder, which in turn was connected to her teacher's chest - a chest that was currently so close to her back she could feel the pendants of the Sennen Ring brushing against her back.
Good student that she was, Mana sat up a little straighter to make the distance even less.
She was perfectly content to spend the rest of the lesson in quiet contemplation of the proximity of her teacher. Mahaado, on the other hand, wasn't going to let another lesson go to waste.
"You're not listening, Mana."
Hearing her name snapped her out of her reverie. "Huh? No, I was listening. I was just thinking about the last thing you said."
"So am I to assume you have a well reasoned answer to my question then?"
"The question that was the last thing I said. The question to which you were giving so much thought."
"Oh, that question…" Mana knew he knew that she knew nothing. There was no reason to stretch things out. "Could you repeat it for me?" she asked, looking up at him with a pleading expression in the hopes of scoring some leniency.
Mahaado never was able to play the Stern Authoritarian to her Delinquent Student for too long before giving in. Mana threw in a whimpering 'pleeeeease' to get things moving more quickly and he began the lecture yet again. This time, he put his hand over hers to guide her fingers through the curves of the fire rune. In theory, this would make sure Mana was paying attention and help familiarize her with the rune's shape. In practice, it put all thoughts of silly little runes right out of her mind. The thoughts that rushed in to replace them weren't of magic or fire, but nonetheless, they made Mana feel increasingly warm.
His fingers moved with hers in an arc, then a line. Two small dots went beside the line to finish the symbol. Such simple gestures, they took no more than a few seconds to complete. It lasted much longer in Mana's mind. They weren't writing out a rune either. Nor was the writing surface a wooden table.
His fingers moved along the arc of her cheek, then the line of her lips. Two quick kisses to his fingertips tempted him to linger but he was determined to explore. His fingers moved on, trailing back to the nape of her neck and then further down…
"Here, Mana. Take this."
"Sure," she purred, wondering what he would do next.
The Mahaado of her fantasy swiftly faded as the Mahaado of reality waggled a reed pen in front of her face. He set it down on the papyrus as a challenge for her to reproduce the rune she had supposedly been learning to draw. Mana stared at paper and pen knowing both were going to go unused as - for the third time - the lesson hadn't even made it into one ear to be able to go out the other.
She glanced surreptitiously at the scroll with the element runes on it, but Mahaado had already covered the one she wanted. He didn't say a word, only breathed out a heavy sigh to acknowledge that he knew too that the papyrus was going to remain blank.
"There's a curve and a line and….some other stuff," Mana ventured. Of course, all runes could be described as curves, lines and other stuff. That's what made them such maddening things to study. It was a pathetic effort on her part, but it was slightly better than saying nothing. Very slightly. As much as Mana hated to disappoint Mahaado, she had managed to do it yet again.
When he finally spoke though, he sounded more disappointed with himself. "Is there some fundamental flaw in my lessons that makes you unable to pay attention to them?"
Mana assured him that his lessons were fine. The subject matter was interesting, not too advanced, being conveyed in a clear fashion, explained thoroughly and everything else positive she could think to say. The only thing Mana didn't say was the actual answer to his question. She ran through several possible explanations in her head, including phrasing the truth in the stuffy style of her magic texts. She knew the words 'I have difficulties focusing at the lesson at hand due to unresolved romantic feelings towards you that manifest in fantasies of an erotic nature' would never make it out of her mouth, mostly because she would feel obligated to kill herself after uttering them.
She went, instead, with an old standby. "I'm just lazy, I guess."
Sadly, this excuse was entirely too plausible, but Mahaado did defend his student from her own accusation (a habit which delighted said student and was actually part of the problem). "But I've seen how much you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Perhaps we should just try another subject?"
Changing the subject was a very good idea, Mana thought, for both the lesson and their conversation. Mahaado returned the element scroll to the shelf from whence it came and scanned through the other scrolls resting there for a suitable topic. Mana tried not to stare too hard when he bent over to look at the scrolls on the bottom shelf.
"Here's one on binding spells," he called out. "They're very useful for defense."
It sounded like a good thing to learn and Mana wondered exactly how the spells functioned. Did they simply freeze the target in place or did they conjure up some sort of bindings, such as the chains worn by prisoners? She fancied she preferred chains. Calling forth objects from the ether was tricky business, but it would look so much more impressive. Mana's lackadaisical work ethic did allow for the occasional hard labor when the results were flashy enough. Chains would be flashy indeed.
Mana contemplated the amount of practice a spell like that would take. She'd have to practice it on an actual target, as binding empty space wasn't possible. The target would have to be a person too. Learning how to form chains around the shape of a chair wouldn't do her much good when under attack from the enemy – unless her enemy happened to be shaped like furniture. And since random strangers on the street weren't likely to take kindly to an apprentice magician ambushing them and wrapping them up in chains, her actual target would have to be Mahaado.
The picture popped into her head before she could fight it. Not that she would have put up much of a fight against seeing her beloved master with arms pinned behind him, kneeling before her and completely subject to her whims. The opportunities inherent in that situation were far, far, far too tempting.
First of all, she had to get rid of the headdress. Let his hair fall freely to his shoulders so she could run her fingers through the strands of gold. The cape wasn't really necessary. And the band of gold fabric wrapped around his waist was completely in the way.
Mana shook herself out of her daydream. Maybe chains weren't the best thing after all. Erasing them from her mental image didn't help. It just gave her an un-obscured view of Mahaado in the same position as before and she was about to move onto another item of clothing to discard. There weren't all that many left.
"On second thought," she said hurriedly and with a bit of a squeak in her voice, "We should stick with the runes. It's not good for me to just skip over lessons I find difficult."
Hearing this pleased Mahaado and he rewarded his student with a warm smile that almost gave Mana a third thought to go ahead with the binding spells.
No, she reprimanded herself just as his robe was about to go. I need to focus on the lesson before he can figure out what's wrong with me. Thankfully, the awareness that was so keen in other matters hadn't yet clued Mahaado into the extent of his apprentice's feelings. Either that, or he was much too kind to let on. A paranoid twinge settled into Mana's gut as she realized how much more likely that second scenario was. Mahaado was the most brilliant man she had ever met. She was, to put it bluntly, one of the least subtle people in all of Egypt. Probably other countries as well. He couldn't not know, could he?
She really didn't want to answer that question so Mana put all her energy into answering the questions Mahaado posed about runes instead. It was amazing what trivia she could recall when she was properly motivated. She still didn't know squat about fire runes, but she was able to remember enough about runes in general to fake her way through the easier questions and ask for clarifications that made it sound as if she was starting to get it. By the time the lesson came to its conclusion, tiny bits of knowledge had managed to wedge themselves in her head.
Mahaado thought it likely she would have them shaken out by the start of the next lesson, but rather than dwell on the distinct possibility, he savored his and Mana's small victory. Progress had been achieved! The blob Mana was drawing on the papyrus sheet bore a passing resemblance to the real rune for fire! And if all that weren't enough, once the first blob was finished, Mana started on a second one, then a third. The fourth figure she drew lost the blob qualities of the others altogether and actually stood a chance of sparking a flame once invoked. It would be a small flame that would probably peter out into a puff a smoke within seconds, but it could be firmly placed within the flame category. He didn't get these kind of results every day.
He could dream though. Mana produced a fifth rune, this one an exact replica of the one on the scroll. Mana, so pleased with her achievement, insisted that he continue the lesson. It meant skipping the midday meal, but her hunger for knowledge surpassed the need for physical nourishment.
Non-Dream Mana put down the reed pen. The fourth thing she had drawn looked pretty good to her and she wanted to end on a high note. She had had an actual productive lesson, despite all the silly distractions. She'd never let on to her teacher what a struggle it had actually been, but Mahaado must be happy with her. She was due another smile. Maybe a reassuring squeeze of her shoulder too. And maybe his hand could stay there for awhile. Or maybe it could start giving her a gentle massage. Maybe the feel of his breath warm against her neck would heighten her sense of relaxation. It would heighten something, all right.
It wasn't long until Mana was happily adrift in maybes. Mahaado didn't seem to notice. In his head, Mana had already mastered the entire element scroll and was eager to move on to those binding spells.
All and all, it was a very pleasant end to a very pleasant lesson for both master and pupil.