April 24, 2013 by Lyn
Friday, March 26, 2004
Kay’s Tempero class had a new Student.
Not “new,” really; it was the second week of the class and he’d been there all along, but he was new to her, and she wasn’t sure what she thought about that. Still. After two weeks with him.
He was cute, for one. And she knew Agravain knew it; she caught the looks her Keeper gave her when he picked her up from class every day. Looking at her, looking at the pretty boy with the dragonfly wings and the ridiculously long hair, looking back at her.
She knew Professor Pelletier noticed it, too. For one, the Professor kept holding back after class with Kay, so they were both there when Agra came to pick her up. For another, she’d asked Kay some strange and pointed questions over the last few days.
Kay was already pregnant, already showing quite a bit. It had occurred to her more than once that Agra might want to trade her in. He was pleased was with himself, getting her pregnant with twins (“See?” he’d said, “now you won’t have to worry about this the rest of your time here, and neither will I”). But he wasn’t exactly thrilled to have her getting “fat.”
And this boy was anything but fat. If his shirt was any tighter, she’d be able to count his ribs. One, two, three… they were nice ribs, too. And he was looking at her, looking at her looking at him. Kay found something else to look at, fast.
“Akaterina?” Kat swallowed and turned around. “Yes, Professor Pelletier?” Class was over, wasn’t it? She couldn’t be in trouble for this, could she?
“Professor VanderLinden would like to talk to you for a few minutes.” She coughed. “You and then Agravain. I’ll send Agra in when he gets here.”
“That’s all right, Kat – is it Kat?” Professor VanderLinden stepped into the classroom and gestured at the back corner. “We can talk back here.”
“Kay, please, sir, or Akaterina.” Was she going to get in trouble for that? He’d asked. But sometimes people didn’t like to get contradicted, and he was her Keeper’s Mentor. “What did I do?”
The Professor didn’t answer. He walked to the back of the room, tail swishing on the carpet, and murmured a Working. “Here, please sit down. We have relative privacy back here, now. They can’t see us or hear us without getting within arm’s reach.”
“Okay?” That was not reassuring. “Sir, what did I do?”
“You haven’t done anything, Akaterina. Please relax.” The professor patted her shoulder carefully. “But people talk.”
“No…” Zita. Damnit.
“And people are suggesting that Agravain might not be treating you well.”
Akaterina swallowed. “I couldn’t say anything about that, sir.”
“Probably not. Would you allow me to read your emotions?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You do if I am giving you one, which I choose to do.”
“Um.” She wasn’t sure what to do about that. She didn’t have any orders against that… actually… “I have been told to let you do as you will, sir.”
“Of course you have.” Professor VanderLinden sighed. “All right. You won’t feel anything at all…”
She’d heard that before. She hadn’t, on the other hand, seen her Lit professor frown quite that much.
“Professor Pelletier said you wanted to see me, sir?” Agravain stepped into their little conference, doing that thing where he made himself seem much bigger than he actually was.
“Yes, Agravain, come in here, sit down.” Professor VanderLinden’s tone didn’t shift.
“Did Kat do something wrong, Mike? We can fix it, if she did.” His glance at her suggested that he expected she’d screwed up yet again, and that she’d be paying for it if she had.
“No. Akaterina has been a wonderful girl. She’s always a pleasure to have in class.” The professor could layer meaning in there like some sort of sin cake; it made it sound like Kat had been giving her English teacher head under the desk. “But it occurs to her Mentor and I that the two of you are not the best fit.”
Agravain stiffened. Kay closed her hands in fists under the table. No, no, this was going to be bad.
“I didn’t know the staff was in the business of matchmaking… sir.”
“We are not, normally. But on occasion, our attention is brought to a situation.”
“Like me and Hemlock?”
“If you were unhappy with Hemlock, why didn’t you say anything?”
Was the professor really that naive?
“Oh, come on, the first order any Kept gets is ‘Don’t speak ill of me.’ I know you guys do your best to ignore everything bad that goes on – or you did, until your basement blew up – but even you had to know that.”
“I’ve heard that before.” Professor VanderLinden pursed his lips. “I heard it first from Shadrach and Meshach’s Kept – former Kept, of course – when explaining to me how we’d missed the bloodbath going on in our school.”
Bloodbath. Kay felt cold. She wrapped her arms around herself and wished for something warmer to wear.
“Bloodbath?” Agra looked a little pale himself. He glanced over at Kay and frowned. “I don’t hurt you.”
“I never said you did!” She couldn’t, of course.
“Tell Mike that.”
Sometimes, her Keeper wasn’t the brightest bulb. “Professor VanderLinden, Agra doesn’t beat me. He doesn’t hurt me. No blood.”
Mike frowned. Kay hadn’t been sure if he would catch that; he didn’t seem like the brightest bulb, either. “Agra, would you order your Kept not to lie to me?”
“Aw, come on, Mike, you know she’s not lying. You know I’m not like those guys.”
“I know. And I know that sometimes Kept are miserable because they just don’t like being Kept, sometimes they cry because they have a bad fit with their Keeper, and sometimes they don’t say anything at all because their Keeper is abusing them.” The professor ticked these things off on his fingers, not looking at either of them. “Sometimes what you’re missing is that the Kept fights all the time and gives their Keeper hell, and sometimes what you’re missing is that he’s torturing her at night.”
Kay didn’t think she could feel any colder, but her shivers had turned into shaking. Much to her surprise, Agra draped his coat over her shoulders. “You’re scaring her, Mike.”
Oh. Kay thought she knew what he was doing. Making a show of concern. Being protective. “See, I treat her well and you’re being an ass.”
It would be cute, if it weren’t full of lies.
Professor VanderLinden raised an eyebrow. “I’d say that, between you and she, you’re both pretty aware of what a bad Keeping can look like. At least that first and second category.”
First and second category… Kay lifted her head up. “Not liking being Kept, or not fitting well with your Keeper?”
Agra sensed he was being thrown a rope, and somehow missed it anyway. “I don’t torture Kat.”
“I didn’t think you did. If I did, this isn’t the conversation we’d be having.” He frowned, and it looked to Kat like he was remembering something completely different. “We wouldn’t be having a conversation at all.”
“So why are we? It’s not like you sat me and Hemlock down.”
“No, but I certainly spent enough time with you last year. Akaterina isn’t my Student; I can’t invite her into my office three times a week without raising eyebrows.”
Kay thought about that for a moment, and turned away from both of them. That would be interesting, but not really what she wanted to be doing.
“I don’t think you’re her type, Mike.”
“And are you?”
Their little corner of the world was silent for a while.
After the quiet had stretched on uncomfortably for three or four aeons, Mike coughed. “Is Hemlock your type?”
Agra didn’t want to answer, that was clear. Kay peeked over, watching the way Professor VanderLinden stared at Agra. Her Keeper squirmed. “I don’t like being Kept.”
“Many people don’t. And you’ve learned that now, yes?”
“Yeah. I have.” Agra’s fists were clenching. “Are we done here?”
“Not yet, Agravain. Not yet.” Mike rested a hand on Agra’s knuckles. “Akaterina is pregnant, obviously.”
“Yeah.” His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Yeah. She’s got twins.” He set a hand on Kay’s belly. “Mine.”
Mine. Kay didn’t say a word, of course.
“Yes. And I understand that you and Miryam are lovers.”
Damnit. Kay looked away, again. Why did he have to bring that up?
“Yeah, so? I mean, I sleep with Indigo and Dirk, too. And Brydan and Reese and Silas…”
Stop it stop it stop it. Kay found that her fists were clenching now, too. And then she found the professor’s hand on hers.
“I apologize, Akaterina. I know this can’t be in any way comfortable for you.”
“Hey, I’m not comfortable, either.”
“No, but Agravain, you have a lot more wiggle room to, say, get up and leave.”
“You’d be pissed at me.” Agra squirmed.
“Yeah, I would. But I don’t think Akaterina can leave the room without you, can she?”
“I don’t want her getting hurt again.”
“Mmm.” The professor frowned. “Agra, all I’m trying to say is that it might be better if you consider releasing Akaterina.”
“Hemlock didn’t release me until the end of the year.”
“And Shahin didn’t release him until the end of the year. And is there any reason you want to be like Shahin, aside from being her brother?”
“…but I want a Kept.”
“I’ve seen you eyeing Caiside. It would probably do him well to be under the collar for a little while.”
Kay didn’t realize she’d made a noise until both of them looked at her.
“See?” Agra smiled. “She doesn’t want to be free.”
“You know as well as I do that the emotional manipulation of the Keeping bond makes wanting to be free almost impossible.”
Agra deflated and scowled as quickly as he’d smiled. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“I always care. But Akaterina has less support network than you did, and that concerns me. Bad Keepings and no support lead to worse Keepings lead to bad situations all around.”
“Bad Keepings!” Agra glowered. “I’m not a bad Keeper.”
“Are you sure that, given her head, Akaterina would agree with you?”
That was a good question. But Agravain was frowning and looking unhappier and unhappier. “You sound like Damaris.”
“When your crew is telling you things like that, maybe you ought to listen, Agra.”
“Fine.” Agravain glowered. “Fine, fine, fuck you both. I release you, Kat.”
Kay felt as if she’d been knocked over. She swallowed a sob. “What?”
“You don’t want to be with me, then go!”
“I never said that.”
“You never said you wanted to be with me, either.”
Professor VanderLinden sighed. “Agra, it is possible that was an overreaction.”
“Then what the hell was all the lecturing about, if you didn’t want me to react?”
“I wanted you to think. Kay, come here.” Suddenly the professor was hugging her. “Agra, she’ll need at least an hour of access to your suite and your room to get her things.”
“Then what?” She sobbed it out without thinking. “Then what do I do?”
“You should have thought of that before this.”
“I didn’t ask you anything! I didn’t say anything!”
“You didn’t tell Mike you were happy and fluffy and fine being my Kept!”
“Because obviously it’s either A or B with no middle ground at all, right? Come on, Agra, couldn’t I have been unhappy and wanted to stay with you?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I like it better than ‘master.’“
“I don’t. Not from you.” He glared at her. “Okay. Mike, she’s got the next hour and fifteen minutes. This was your brilliant idea, so you can help her too, if you want. Don’t mess with anything of mine. Either of you.”
“Thank you, Agra.”
“I’m not talking to you.” He turned his back on both of them. “Better hurry.”
“Come on, Kay.” Mike stood up and offered her his hand. “Let’s go get your stuff.”
She felt weird, holding the Lit professor’s hand as they walked down the hall, but she didn’t want to let go. She didn’t even want to think about letting go, about being alone. “Why did you… why did you?” She couldn’t even come up with a way to end that sentence.
“Because sometimes I don’t, and it turns out something horrible is going on. I didn’t expect him to do that, Kay, and I’m sorry.”
“I’m not. I mean. I am, and it hurts, but I’m okay.”
The professor gave her a long look. “I think you will be, at least. If we can keep you out of the hands of anyone else – your twins ought to help with that, at least. Do you have any friends you can hide out with?”
Friends. She felt a little numb. “Everyone’s Kept.”
“Everyone’s Kept. Of course they are.” He frowned. “Would you like me to help you find a better Keeper?”
“Why would I want… why would I want someone else? Why would anyone want me? You just said they wouldn’t.”
“Well, yes. There’s a chance people will be foolish about this, but the foolish people are probably not who you’d like as a Keeper anyway.” Mike frowned. “But you’ve already met them.”
“Agravain wasn’t… well, I guess, maybe. I don’t know!” She frowned. “I was so angry about being Kept, and I hated it, and then I didn’t hate it anymore.”
“The magic of the Belonging can do that to you. It twists your brain after a while.” Professor VanderLinden opened the door into what had been, until a few minutes ago, Kay’s home.
“Hey, you can’t just come in here!” Kendon glared from the couch. “Kat, what the hell are you doing?”
“Akaterina.” Correcting him felt wonderful. “Agra said we could come in. Professor VanderLinden is going to help me pack.”
“Pack, what?” Kendon stood up. “If Agra doesn’t want you anymore…”
“Ken, don’t be stupid.” Damaris kicked Kendon in the shins. “Really. In front of the Professor? Hi, Mike.”
“Hi, Damie. How’re you doing?”
“Doing okay.” Damaris shrugged. “Kat, you have things out in the suite?”
Kat thought about that, and shook her head. “Just the hair things I left in your room.”
“I’ll get ‘em for you. You don’t want to play girlie-nights any more?”
“Oh.” Kay hadn’t been expecting that. “You’d want to? I thought it was just…”
“Hey, I like you. Agra will sulk and whine, I’m sure, but he doesn’t get to pick my friends. What happened, anyway?”
“Um. I’m not really sure.” She glanced at Professor VanderLinden, who appeared to be looking anywhere but at her. “The professor was asking Agravain if I was happy, and Agra got angry and freed me.”
“Hunh. Yeah, I can see that. Mike…!”
“Well, she wasn’t happy. That wasn’t the solution I was looking for, but the last thing we need is more miserable Kept being miserable. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for the school.”
“What, you’d rather we were all happy little princesses and princes?”
Kay wasn’t sure what had gotten into Damaris, but whatever it was, it was nasty. Mike seemed better equipped to handle this one.
“No. I’d rather you were all comfortable and content. I don’t actually like unhappiness, Damaris.”
He sounded as if he was pleading with her. Kay, who could see the minutes left in her hour ticking away, looked between the two of them in confusion.
Something softened in Damaris. “It wasn’t fun. But it wasn’t that bad. Not like some of the stories, at least. “
Something released in Mike’s shoulders. “We try. I know we miss some. But no-one will talk to us.”
“Peer pressure. Kattie, go pack your bags. We’ll be fine out here.”
Obedience was well-ingrained. Kay hurried into Agra’s room to pack, leaving the Professor and Damaris staring at each other.
Monday, March 29, 2004
Being free was weird.
Kay had barely left her room all weekend. Mike had escorted her to the Store for groceries, and been very patient with her when she found herself frozen with indecision.
But Monday, Monday she had to go to classes. She found an old outfit that Agra hadn’t ruined, a comfortable, baggy sweater that still fit over her swelling stomach and a soft knit skirt that went all the way down over her knees. She held her bag in front of her like a shield, held her chin up, and, trying not to feel naked and wrong with her neck bare, walked to class.
She got through her first class with no trouble and nobody really looking at her. She had Ceinwen and Ahouva in her second class. That worried her. She hadn’t been able to talk much at all while she’d been Kept. And they hadn’t been all that close before that…
“Your neck is bare.” Ahouva sat down to one side of her. “Did you figure out how to poison Agra in his sleep?”
“What? Oh. No.” She managed a little smile. “No. Um. I’m really not sure what happened. I guess he got bored.”
“Ouch.” Ceinwen leaned forward, resting her hand on the desk but not touching Kay. “Are you doing okay?”
That got a smile out of Kay. If anyone would understand, it would be Ceinwen and Ahouva. “I think so?” She rolled her shoulders like she was testing a healing injury – which, she supposed, she was. “Professor VanderLinden wants me to go see Dr. Mendosa, and I suppose I will. But that’s, you know, mostly preventive care?” She bit her lip. “It feels mostly like a bad break-up, except without much of that wanting to run after him and ask him to take me back.”
“Mmm.” Ahouva nodded. “I spent the first day asking Basalt to return me to Kendon. It’s the way it works, being Kept. It messes with your head.”
They all nodded. They all knew that one.
“So, what are you going to do now?” Ceinwen hadn’t moved her hand from the desk. Kay set hers near her friend’s, not sure she could bring herself to touch someone else quite yet. “You’re pregnant, right?”
“Not just getting fat.” Kay laughed nervously. It didn’t feel right to joke about it. Agra didn’t like her joking about her weight. Joking about anything, really. “Twins.”
“Ooh, twins. You’ll only have to go through it once, then.”
“That’s what Agra said.” She wasn’t so sure, herself. “What about you?” Something else, please, something other than thinking about raising his kids for eighteen years.
“Only one.” Ceinwen set a hand on her stomach. “My little owlbear.”
“I get these dreams, sometimes. And that’s what it looks like. Can’t tell boy or girl, but it looks like an owlbear.”
“Oh, that’s neat.” Kay smiled, feeling a little sad all over again. “I don’t know. Agra never drops his Mask, I can’t even guess.” She tugged on her pointed ears. “Dr. Caitrin says that mine is, what Brownie? And you’re a swan…”
Ceinwen’s neck was somehow not creepy, however elongated it had gotten. The feathers in her blonde hair were kind of neat, too. “Yeah. Thorburn… I don’t know, but Cynara calls him thorn-bear.”
“Could just be his name.” Ahouva tugged on her own fluffy ear. “My name doesn’t have anything to do with my Change.”
“Does it mean ‘orange?’“ Kay teased. It was nice to be able to tease again. “I’ve never seen anyone with hair as bright as yours.”
Ahouva colored, and ran her hand through her hair. “It might. I don’t know, I like my hair. So does Basalt.”
“Speaking of a name that matches the Change.”
“Yeah. But he’s not nearly as rocky as he looks.”
“Good.” Kay nodded her head firmly. “You deserve that, after Kendon.”
“Yeah…” Ahova rubbed her wrists under her sleeves. “Yeah.”
“Hey. Sorry.” Kay frowned. “Sorry, it’s just nice to be able to say what I feel again, you know?”
“I know. And I know Kendon was bad, but it’s so much easier to believe that he was just, I don’t know, misunderstood.” She looked down at her fingers, hyena-ears raking backwards against her head. “I mean, I walked right into it…”
“We all did.” Ceinwen interrupted with a firm, no-nonsense tone. “All of us walked into traps. From what I hear, almost everyone in the school walks into traps.”
Kay nodded. “I know I did. Even some of the happy ones aren’t really happy so much as they’re not-as… well, you know.”
“Like me.” Ceinwen shrugged. “I’m getting on better with Thorburn lately—”
“Basalt says he thinks he’s changing. Mellowing or something?” Ahouva looked a bit uncertain about the interjection. Kay didn’t blame her. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea either.
“Yeah. He is.” Ceinwen’s smile was sudden, bright, and short-lived, like a brief explosion of happiness. “I mean. He’s still my Keeper, with everything that that means. But he’s better.” She plucked at the sleeve of her shirt. “We picked this out together.”
Kay looked down at her shirt, and thought about all of the clothes she’d liked that Agra had tossed. “That’s a good sign.”
“Yeah. I know.” Ceinwen patted Kay’s arm. “Are you going to be okay, on your own?”
She wanted to say I have my friends, right? But Thorburn had Ceinwen and Basalt had Ahouva. Someone had most of their year. “I think I’ll be okay. Professor VanderLinden…” She wasn’t sure about that one. But it had been a suggestion. “He said ‘Keeping isn’t always bad.’ He said I should think about finding a good Keeper for the rest of the year. Someone I like. But what if all the good Keepers are taken?”
“Hunh. Why would he rush you back into a collar?” Ahouva frowned. “Not that — I mean — well, Basalt. But if you’re free…”
“Then she doesn’t have someone to protect her.” Ceinwen frowned. “That’s the way they think, you know.”
“Yeah.” Ahouva touched her collar. “That’s why Basalt challenged for me. I still don’t know why Jeremiah did. Maybe because of Lolly?”
They all shivered in concert at that.
“Well, have you thought about it?” Ceinwen talked out the question slowly, like getting used to the idea. “Maybe… shopping out a Keeper? Talking to other people and seeing if anyone’s interested?”
“I’m thinking about it. I don’t think I’m likely to get jumped, not with these in here.” She rested a hand on the top of her stomach. “Most people are looking for a baby factory.”
“Some people.” Ceinwen frowned. “I don’t think that’s all of them, by any means.”
“Why don’t you make a list?” Ahouva pointed at her own notebook. “These people I like. These I don’t want to be Kept by. This is what I want if I’m going to have a collar again. These are the reasons I don’t want one.”
“And then, what, show it to people who aren’t on the ‘no way’ list?”
“Well, why not?” Ahouva smiled brightly. “If they’re willing to listen to you and read your list, that’s a good first step, wouldn’t you say?”
“You guys really think I should look for another Keeper?”
“I’m not certain.” Ceinwen touched her collar. “Lots of people seem like nice guys at first, but that’s not how they are behind closed doors.”
“There is that. It’s hard to tell what someone is really like — but Cein and I could ask Thorburn and Basalt for you, at least.”
“Yeah.” Kay looked down at her notebook. She turned to a new page and started making lists.
Anyone who already has a Kept
Why I Don’t Want a Collar Again
Friday, April 5, 2004
“We need to talk.”
“You know guys never like hearing that, right?”
“I know. And I’m sorry. This is mostly me apologizing.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“I think I have to.” Ciara sat down on the edge of the bed, which just exaggerated the height difference between her and Amadeus.
As if it made him nervous to be that much taller than her — maybe it did — he sat down at her feet. “No. You’re Keeping me. You don’t have to apologize for anything.”
“Come here.” She patted the bed next to her. “That’s just it. I’ve been letting you teach me how to Keep you. For months. And I don’t think that’s how I should have been doing it.”
“Why not? I mean, wasn’t this supposed to be turnabout to start with?” He shifted to the bed, hunching as he sat down. Yeah, he didn’t like being that much taller than her. It would be funny if it weren’t sad.
“No.” She shook her head. “Still no, no matter how many times you ask. All I wanted was a way to be sure you’d stop stalking me.”
He tugged on his collar. “I guess you got that, all right. Didn’t get rid of me, though.”
“It’s a small school, Amadeus. I didn’t ever think I’d be able to get rid of you. I just wanted to feel safe.”
“Hunh. Do you?”
“Yes. The question is, do you?”
“Do I what?” He wouldn’t quite look at her, and he got a little more hunched over. Like that wasn’t an answer in and of itself.
“Do you feel safe?”
“What? Yeah. I mean…” He frowned, the expression he got when he was working around his orders in his head. “You’re a good person, and you don’t like to play rough.”
“Which is different from feeling safe.”
“Well, I don’t think you’re going to do anything bad to me or anything.”
“By whose standards?” She wanted to take his hands, but didn’t, not yet. If he was a little uncomfortable, he might answer better.
“Mine, I guess? I mean, you want to be good people, you’re cy’Luca.”
Ciara laughed shortly. “Okay, that makes sense. But you don’t feel safe.”
“Well. You’re tiny. And you’re in control of me. And that’s kind of freaky, you know?”
Ciara frowned. “What does me being tiny have to do with anything?”
“Look, your trick was good for one challenge, and yes, you beat me. But if you get challenged. If Jaelie decides she wants me, and really decides to make an issue of it, or someone else I’ve pissed off…”
“I don’t have to accept the challenge. Jaelie doesn’t have anything I want.” She knew why he wasn’t worried about Margherita, although she thought it was foolish of him; Ghita might still be scared of him, but that would probably make her a really heavy—handed Keeper.
“And if they just try to take me?”
“You know, I am cy’Luca.”
“Yeah, but you’re also a Ninth Cohort.”
“And you’re not. And you don’t have any orders against defending yourself, or me.” She shook her head. “I think we’re getting off topic.”
“I don’t know what the topic is. Something about you apologizing?”
“For you being my experimental subject while I figure out Keeping.”
“That’s what everyone’s first year Keeping is like. I just didn’t expect it, you know, my third year here.”
“I know. Or my first year.” She shook her head. “Luke has been yelling at me.”
“Fuck him.” He held up both hands. “Not like that! He’s not Linden, anyway. I don’t know if he’d sleep with his Students if they were girls.”
“I’m not sleeping with Luke.” They were never going to get back on topic. Ciara thought about any number of conclusions she’d come to recently, and, one by one, tossed them out the non—existent window. “Come here.”
“Here? What? Oh.” He shut up as she put her hand on the back of his neck and pulled his face towards his. “Oh…”
His kisses were far nicer than Ghita had claimed.
Art by Kuroseishin
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?