September 4, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, August 9, 2004
“Very good. Dah. Now step, step, yes. And duck.” Professor Fridmar laughed happily as Xanthia completed the obstacle course, despite his directly counter-helpful patter. “You are getting better at this by far. Is she not, Hemlock?”
There was something weird going on between the two of them. Xanthia looked at her Keeper and then her Mentor, and then back again. “Thank you, Professor.”
“She’s improving.” Hemlock sounded uncomfortable; Xanthia didn’t blame him. They weren’t the only ones of their cy’ree to spend the summer, but Fridmar had been calling them in for joint sessions for weeks. “My turn?”
“Dah, your turn. Come on, pretty one.” He gestured Hemlock over.
Xanthia fell into a cross-legged position on the floor to watch. Hemlock, by the nature of the Change lottery, was more flexible than she was; he had gotten what Professor Valerian called the Color Palette Shift as the largest portion of his Change, where she had pieces of exoskeleton. He’d also gotten thinner, taller, and longer-limbed, so that he could step through and over the traps and tunnels with almost no effort at all.
Of course, this being a cy’Fridmar obstacle course, nothing was ever quite that easy. There were the swinging blades, for one, Professor Fridmar’s patter for another, and said professor’s random potshots for a third.
And at about this point, he’d start calling in the one of them to attack the other, just to make it more fun. They did this exercise as a cy’ree, too, during the year. Doing it against her Keeper made it weirder and a lot less comfortable. It also made it feel more and more like the professor was testing them for something – or against something, or something-something.
“And Xanthia… now.”
She stood when he said her name, and, as he said now, watched for the head-nod that was the actual cue.
She grabbed her pile of beanbags and started throwing.
They weren’t heavy enough to do real damage, except that Hemlock was on the balance beam, and that was enough to send him careening down if she hit him right. Which made this whole thing really, really, uncomfortable, because…
“You throw like a palsied crone! No, I know palsied crones who throw better than you! What is wrong with you, Xanthia-girl? Throw hard!”
…Professor Fridmar seemed intent on pitting them against each other, and, particularly, on pitting her against Hemlock. They’d talked about this; he’d told her it was okay, but it still made her feel weird.
“Throw,” Hemlock grunted. He was nearly off the beam. Xanthia threw this one hard enough to make a thud sound.
“In this room, she throws when I say throw!”
“Seems like she throws when I say throw, too, Professor.” He grabbed the overhead rings and started swinging.
Xanthia threw a beanbag, hard, at each of them. “Maybe I should just throw them when I want to, okay?” She tossed another one, catching Hemlock in the junk.
“Calm down, Xanthia-girl. Do not want to break your pretty Keeper.”
She turned and caught her Mentor’s eye. He looked at her, both of them ignoring Hemlock swinging over the pit of uncomfortably-sharp rocks. A heartbeat passed. Another. Xanthia knew she wasn’t flinching, wasn’t showing anything at all. Calm down? She raised her eyebrows. Really?
Agmund Fridmar was not the sort of man to back down from a challenge. On the other hand, he was also not the sort of man who was prone to being foolish. He nodded his head, a tiny, tiny gesture. “At your leisure, then, Xanthia-girl. Pretty boy!” His voice whipped out. “What is it you are doing?”
“The obstacle course, Profess… ow. -er.”
“Yes? Then why are you not falling?”
“Because I’m better than that, at this part.” He managed to dodge Xanthia’s next beanbag without actually missing a tire.
“Yes? And why are you so cocky?”
“‘It is not arrogance if it is simple truth.’“ He bowed as he stepped onto the completion platform, then turned it into a duck as the professor swung a staff at him.
“Bah. And when will you release the girl? It is halfway through summer.”
“Ah.” Hemlock sat down on the edge of the platform and gave Xanthia a look. She shrugged; why not? He was their Mentor, after all. “Xanthia and I talked about it before she agreed to be Kept. We decided I would Keep her until a week before classes start. At that point, I’ll release her, and we can talk about whether she wants to continue to wear my collar for the next year, or if I should help her find her own Kept, or both.”
“Both?” Professor Fridmar studied them. Xanthia said nothing.
Hemlock shrugged. “I said ‘wear my collar’ not ‘still Belong to me.’“
“Interesting.” The professor, finally, smiled. “You two, perhaps, will work well together.”
“I think so.” Xanthia resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her Mentor. “I wouldn’t have agreed to the collar if I didn’t think we could work this out comfortably for both of us, Professor Fridmar.”
“Then you did truly agree to it?”
“What, you think he mind controlled me into… you do, did, didn’t you?”
“You were very against the idea.”
“I still am, when it’s done wrong. But this isn’t wrong, and he made a very compelling argument.”
“Very compelling, but it was not mind control?”
“Very compelling, and not mind control.”
“This argument I would like to hear.”
Xanthia shrugged. “Some things are private, Professor.”
She found it was sort of entertaining when she could surprise her Mentor. “There are private things you will not tell me?”
“Will not or cannot?”
“If it was ‘cannot,’ would you ignore the wishes of another member of your cy’ree?” Hemlock’s voice was very mild indeed.
“The well-being of my cy’ree is more important than their ‘wishes.’“ Professor Fridmar’s voice was not.
“Since when? There’s always cy’Fridmar Kept.”
“And I always speak to them about Keeping.”
Xanthia shook her head. Something just seemed off. “You talk to them, sure, Professor, but there’s talking to them and then there’s this sort of getting tetchy with Hemlock and asking me questions and being surprised that I did this willingly. You’re acting like Luke or something.”
It was his turn to raise his eyebrows. “Like the Hawk.”
“She’s right, Professor.”
“Well, then.” Fridmar leaned back in his seat. “The Hawk is very protective of the girls in his care. There are not that many who are cy’Luca, or are cy’Fridmar. And the Hawk, unlike me, has no daughters.”
“You have daughters?”
“Of course I do. Everyone here has children.” He smiled, a very ursine sort of expression. “One of mine was one of the Hawk’s. His student, my child.”
“That had to get awkward.”
“We do not growl at each other much, us old predators. And she is a good girl.”
“You’re growling now, Professor.” Xanthia decided they ought to just get it out there.
“Very direct, Xanthia-girl, for my Student.”
“‘Sometimes what you have to do is slice through the slush.’“
“That is not a quote of mine.”
“No. That one was Luke.”
“Mmm. Yes, I am growling. An old bear may growl, sometimes, when surrounded by cubs.”
“Are we done with this training session, Professor?” Hemlock’s interjection was neither on-topic nor particularly smooth. Xanthia had a guess as to why, though.
“Dah. Go.” The professor’s answer was just as short. Xanthia felt an urge to lock herself in her room again.
Except, right now, that wasn’t her room. She bowed to the professor, bowed to Hemlock, and waited for her cue. This was the part she hated the most.
A heartbeat passed. Hemlock was proving a point. Not to her, but it grated nonetheless.
“Let’s head out, Xanthia.” He held out a hand to her, never mind how sweaty they both were, and she took it. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Professor? Same time?”
“Need to keep in shape, yes. Same time.”
Xanthia stayed quiet in the halls, and Hemlock seemed inclined to do the same. He was tense, obviously, but he was just as obviously smiling. This had the potential to be a very interesting conversation.
Nobody else was in the suite common room when they let themselves in. Nessie was gone, of course; Tigg had gone home for the summer, and Speed and Gregori were spending most of their time in their room. Amadeus… they still weren’t sure what was going to go on with him, when the year turned around to the next year. And she still wasn’t sure when she’d started thinking of herself as part of Hemlock’s crew.
“That was interesting.” She spoke first, because she wasn’t sure what take Hemlock was going to take on it.
He smirked. “The professor has a crush on you? It’s interesting coming from him, at least.”
“A what?” She shook her head. “No, that was paternal overbearingness at its best.”
“Ha. Well, I guess with a guy that old, paternal and crush might look the same. But that’s only paternal if he’s got an Electra complex.”
“…um. Ew. He’s my Mentor.”
“And that stops people, does it? Look at Lemon.”
“Professor VanderLinden isn’t even her Mentor!”
“I know. And yet…”
“I’m not sleeping with a Professor!” It wasn’t that she found the idea all that unappealing. If he wasn’t her professor, maybe. If she wasn’t already in what she was going to call a relationship for lack of a better term. “Any professor.”
“No. You’re not going to.” Hemlock’s voice had an edge to it. She hated when he made things orders; she hated it worse when the orders were because he was irritated. “Not while you’re under my collar, at least.”
She swallowed. “Are you jealous?” She shook her head before he could answer. She had to cut this off before it got bad. “No. No, you can’t be jealous, because there’s nothing to be jealous of. I’m yours. You know I’m yours, I’m wearing your collar, I’m sleeping in your bed, I’m pregnant with our baby, and you tell me what to do. I’m not sleeping with anyone else. I haven’t even given anyone else a second glance in all the time I’ve been at this school-”
“Not anyone? Not once?” His voice was rough.
“Not anyone, not the way you mean. I haven’t considered anyone else.”
“And I should be glad you chose me, is that what you’re saying?”
“What?” She took a step backwards. His eyes had narrowed and his forehead was furrowed. “I don’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, Hemlock. I’m telling you what I know about myself. There’s nothing for you to be jealous of, because I’m not looking at anyone else.”
“Of course you’re not. You’re mine.” He sounded it out like it was a foreign concept. “You Belong to me. Not to Professor Fridmar. Not to the old bear…”
She stepped in closer to him. “He riled you up. I’m sorry. I don’t know what got him so agitated.”
“I told you, the old crank is jealous. And it might be stupid, and you might not be interested, but he’s grumpy, because I’m a young buck and don’t know my place.” Hemlock glared at her, but the glare quickly softened. “And I don’t think you’re leading him on, or anything stupid like that. It’s just…” Hemlock sat down, and patted the bed next to him. Xanthia, knowing that for an order, sat down near him.
“It’s just?” She really wasn’t sure what was going on with him.
“Well.” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and he finally looked her straight-on. “Well, he’s bigger than me.”
“He’s a Professor.”
“He’s a teacher, he’s our Mentor, and he wants you.”
“He’s not going to get me.”
“What if he challenges me for you?”
“Then I’ll stab him in the intestines with a rowan knife.”
“Xanthia!” He was, she noted, smiling. But he looked a little horrified. That made her smile.
“What? I don’t always like being Kept, but if I’m going to be Kept, I like it being your collar.” She touched the collar around her neck. It had a lock, but she had the key, or, at least, one of the keys.
“I do think you’re having an insecure moment, Hemlock.” She bit her lip the moment the words were out of her mouth, and watched him carefully. Had she…
He grimaced, but his hands didn’t tighten. “It’s not nice to kick a guy when he’s down, Xanthia.”
“Says who? We’re cy’Fridmar.” She was betting that that would… yes. He smirked, just a little bit. “We are. Yes.” He pressed her close against him. “You want to be here. That’s new. I thought maybe you’d want him instead.”
“He’s a teacher.” She wasn’t the most huggable fae in the world; her carapace creaked rather than squishing. That wasn’t stopping him, though, so she put a kiss on his collarbone. “Besides, I like you.”
“Careful. They’ll toss you out of cy’Fridmar for that.”
“At the moment, I think you’re in more danger of that than I am. You’re getting fond of your possession, Hemlock. I’d be careful of that if I were you.”
“Or what?” His smile was his normal sardonic expression. “Who’s going to find out?”
“Your crew, maybe. And you know how they are.”
“All secretly fond of their Possessions. Or having graduated. Hrrm.” He stroked her arms, his gaze focused on something over her head.
“Oh.” He didn’t look down at her, not yet. “Speed. I’m not sure what he’ll do. Tigg’ll probably stick around, but he might just go find another Keeper. Nessie’s gone, graduated. That leaves Gregori and me.”
“Two people isn’t much of a crew.”
“You might think about it, once I take the collar off.” He ran his thumb around her neck, just under the collar. “Damie and Agra wouldn’t have been suited to our crew – but I think you would.”
“You’d have me in your crew?” She struggled against the warm feelings the compliment pushed through her. This wasn’t helpful. This wasn’t what she needed to focus on. It wasn’t… “I’ll think about it when you take the collar off.” It was what she was right now, and her Keeper liked her.
“Good girl.” He pulled her close to his chest. “You’re my good girl, Xanthia, and I like it that way.”
It felt good. It felt humiliating, but only if she let herself think about it that way. There was no need to think of it like that right now. “Say that again?”
“You’re my good girl.” He might be laughing at her, but against his chest, she couldn’t really tell. “And I like it that way.”
It was better than getting drunk. “Thank you… sir.”
His voice took on a mischievous tone. “How good would you like to be today?”
“Oh, so we’re going there, are we?” She tilted her head up so he could see her smile. “Will that make you feel better about our Mentor macking on your Kept?”
“Was he macking? I didn’t notice.”
“It doesn’t suit you to lie… master.” He got this look on his face when she called him master. It was a drunk-with-power look, a smile at the corner of his lips with half-lidded eyes and a little exhalation, barely an expression at all but enough to make her know he really liked it. She didn’t want him to get used to it or anything, but on the other hand, it felt pretty good to see him make that expression.
“Then I won’t lie to you, my girl.” He’d only called her pet once… that had led to an explosion on both of their parts and a careful agreement that my girl was a suitable answer to master. After all, she was his girl. “If you want to show me how good you can be, I’ll find it will take the taste of our Mentor’s… macking… right out of my mouth.” He chuckled. “And I’m sure I can find a way to reward you for being good, too.”
“I have faith that my master will always reward his girl for being good.” This, too, could be humiliating, but it could be fun, too, so she chose to let it be the latter and not the former. She dropped to her knees. “How good does my master want me to be?”
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
It had taken some doing to get time alone with her Mentor.
Hemlock didn’t want it to happen – for reasons that Xanthia both understood and was irritated by. And the Professor himself seemed to be bending over backwards to make sure that they were never alone together.
In the end, she’d had to fib to her Keeper, which was making her feel vastly uncomfortable, and cut short a trip to the Library to ambush her Mentor.
She caught Professor Fridmar in his office, and stood against the door so he couldn’t get away. “Professor, a moment?”
“Dah… ah. Xanthia. What can I do for you?” He steepled his hands on the desk and looked at her over them. He looked like he was trying to imitate Professor Solomon.
“You’ve been acting oddly since Hemlock collared me.” She’d thought about starting with do you want to have sex with me, but she thought she might get kicked out of the cy’ree for something that direct.
“Mmm? Do not think I have been.”
“If disingenuity doesn’t suit your Students, Professor, it suits you far less.” And that was a little more direct than said cy’ree ought to be… well, she had very little time.
“Ha. You are a clever girl, Xanthia. Too clever to be under the collar.”
“Is that why you’ve been so angry?”
“Have not been so angry.”
“Is that why you have been more demanding than before and shorter with both me and Hemlock?” Right. Specificity.
“Have been a bit shorter, perhaps. I thought you were smarter than that.”
“I probably was. But there were extenuating circumstances and, after all, I didn’t want to be single for my entire time here.”
“Thought you were a very studious girl.” He frowned now, a big bearish glower. “Very interested in your books.” He flapped a dismissive hand.
“Well, I am.” Xanthia couldn’t help but sound a bit exasperated. “But there’s more to life than books, origami, and the violin, and I have to graduate at some point, don’t I?”
“The boy told you about that, did he?”
“Yeah?” She rolled her shoulders and looked at the wall. “Sir, I know that you were impressed by my interest in scholarly pursuits, and my dedication to learning. But you understood that half of that was just fear, right?”
“And now you have no more fear?” His glower could not get more intimidating, but he was certainly trying. “Now you have given up on rational caution and thrown all of that away for, what, kisses and a pretty face?”
“Understanding and knowledge. Companionship, a crew, and an education.” After as many times as she’d had this conversation with herself, the words came easily. “I don’t like the idea of being a ‘zombie,’ even when I’m under the collar. But there’s a reason the school allows it, isn’t there?”
That just made him clench his fists. “Many reasons.”
“I assume the graduation requirements have something to do with it?” Graduation requirements. She’d screamed at Hemlock until he’d ordered her into silence when he told her about those… and then cried silently until he relented. Two children in four years. This school was insane.
“Something.” He looked into her eyes for a very brief moment. “And it is part of being Ellehemaei.”
“Thus, education. Ellehemaei sometimes are Kept. Sometimes they Keep other Ellehemaei.”
“Not needed for your education here in Addergoole. I can teach you what you need to know.”
Up until that point, Xanthia had not been certain of – or even seriously considering – Hemlock’s theory. There was something about the crack in the Professor’s voice.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.” It was easy to sound sincere – she was sincere. “I didn’t want to let you down, Professor. But I was never really not interested in dating. I just wanted dating without being a zombie.”
“And now you have decided it is all right to be a zombie?”
“No.” She sat down. This wasn’t going to be easy. “Now I’ve decided to learn what is going on with all the other zombies, under a scientific -”
“-under a scientific, constrained circumstance.”
“The boy is pretty.”
She twitched the corners of her mouth up a little. “He is pretty, yes. Very pretty. And when he decided there was something I had that he wanted, he remembered how to be very charming.”
“Charming, too?” The Professor shook his head. “Pretty and charming.”
She wouldn’t have thought it in any other school. But at least one of her classmates had given birth to the Literature professor’s babies. “Sir…”
His eyes darted up to her face. “What is it, Xanthia-child?”
“I know sometimes Professor VanderLinden sleeps with his students.”
“Not only the Tree-flower, no. Mike is just the one who is obvious about it. Ask Olifur about his child sometime.”
That was a new one. She made a note to ask around about that later. “I will. Were you… did you…”
“Kept now. What does it matter?”
That, she figured, was the best answer she was going to get. She stood up and bowed. “Thank you for your time, Professor.”
Even if she’d felt like arguing with her Mentor, she wouldn’t have argued with that tone. She sat down as if it was an order and locked her eyes on Professor Fridmar’s face.
“Hemlock’s idea, was it? This question?”
She shook her head. “Hemlock thought maybe you were interested. But asking you was my idea, sir.”
“And why was that?”
That was a good question. She gave it the consideration it deserved.
“You’re my Mentor, sir, and I respect you. I enjoy having you as a teacher and you’ve already shown me a lot – and trained me more than anyone ever has. I like working with you and, as far as I can tell, so does Hemlock.”
“And do you think an ‘interest’ would cause a problem?”
“I think it is, sir.” Her heart was in her throat. She plowed on anyway. “I think you’re not training us fairly, because you’re angry.”
“Mm. I am unhappy you became collared. You were doing very well.”
“And only seven or eight people were stalking me.” She smiled cautiously. “For Addergoole, that seems like not a bad run.”
“You did very well.” The professor nodded. “I was very pleased by your progress. I do not want to see it stilled.”
“You think being Kept will still it? Has stilled it?”
“Often it does.”
“Has it in my case, Professor?” Her heart had stopped being in her throat; now it had fled her body like a rat leaving a sinking ship. He was going to wreck her.
“What do you think, Xanthia?” A heartbeat, where it was clear he wasn’t done. He leaned forward over his desk. “What are you allowed to think?”
“What am I allowed to think?”
She was mulling the question, over a summer-time cheap novel and an even cheaper TV show. She knew she’d spoken aloud, but it hadn’t really occurred to her that anyone else was listening until Gregori answered.
“Depends on what your Keeper decides, doesn’t it?”
“Of course.” She tried not to show how much he’d startled her – and worried her – but the leer on his face told her she hadn’t entirely succeeded.
“Is that common, then?”
Gregori shrugged. “I’ve heard of people doing it. I’ve done it a time or two – not with Speed, but with Damaris. Hemlock hasn’t?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” She stepped carefully in her mind around orders. She was pretty sure talking to Gregori about this was allowed, but sometimes she ran into things, orders, that she’d forgotten about. “But it wouldn’t be that hard to order me to forget an order unless it came up, would it?”
Gregori’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve given this some thought.”
“I’ve given most parts of the Keeping quite a bit of thought.” That was definitely allowed; it had been one of the core parts of their agreement. “This is planned as a learning experience.”
“Everyone’s time under the collar is a learning experience.”
Gregori, if she recalled correctly, had never spent any time Kept. “I imagine it is. Hard to learn if you can’t think, though.”
“What brought this train of consideration up?”
“Professor Fridmar.” That was a safe enough answer, she thought.
“Oh, he still going on about you and Hemlock?” Gregori shook his head. “That man. I don’t think he knows what to do with three women in his cy’ree.”
“You think that’s all it is?” That would be nice.
“Mmm? With him being in your face? No. Is he saying Hemlock isn’t letting you think, now?”
“No.” No, that probably would have been going to far. She could see by the way Gregori’s shoulders relaxed that he would have had a problem with it, too. “No, he’s just asking the question.”
“And have you come up with an answer?”
“Not yet.” She sighed. “It’s hard to know what you’re allowed to think.”
Thursday, August 12
It was weird being home. It was weirder being home and being pregnant. It was weirdest being home, being pregnant, and still not showing. Not weirdest, because the weirdest part was dealing with her old friends, her old family, her old neighborhood. It was weird having her Mask up all the time.
She’d come to dread knocks on the door, because knocks on the door were generally some family member or old school friend wanting to know if she’d come to the amusement park or the faire or the fest or the beach. And it was all fun – except the roller coasters, which both made her stomach miserable and made her laugh at how much like a metaphor for Addergoole they were – but it was all fun while wearing a Mask and a mask.
She answered the door anyway, because if she didn’t, they just called her up, and if she didn’t answer the phone, then they started bothering her parents. “I think I’ve got a bit of a summer cold… oh.” I didn’t think you left the school didn’t cross her lips, right before I didn’t know you could visit me, and I didn’t think you’d want to see me. She closed her mouth until she could come up with something reasonable to say, and ended up just saying “Amadeus. I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I know.” He rolled his shoulders forward and looked at the ground. “I know. I called your mother and made sure you were feeling all right and everything, but I wanted to see you, and I figured, well, the worst you’d do is turn me away. Or vaporize me, but I was pretty sure you wouldn’t do that.” He reached out one hand, but stopped, holding it in the air halfway between his thigh and her stomach. “Hoped you wouldn’t, I guess.”
“I’m not going to vaporize you. Why…” She swallowed and tried again. “Why did you want to see me?”
He shrugged. “I wanted to. I waited a while, to see if it was just the bond whiplash, and when it didn’t go away, I waited a little while longer, and then I was pretty sure you didn’t want to see me. Jaelie and Ghita never did.”
“But you Kept Jaelie and Ghita. You didn’t Keep me.”
She shouldn’t leave him standing on her parents’ doorstep. She didn’t move.
“No. And you let me go.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “You took the collar off. I didn’t really expect you to.”
“Do you miss it?” She closed her mouth over the words with a snap, but it was too late. They’d been said.
“If I said yes… If I said yes, what would you say?”
“If you said yes, I’d say that you were my wolf now. And you know what they say about wolves who live with humans.”
“That they become dogs.”
He growled quietly. “I don’t want to be a dog. I don’t want to be a tame wolf.”
“But…?” She tilted her head, waiting.
“But I’m already a tame wolf.” He grumbled it out, his eyes on her shoulder or somewhere behind her. “I’m already your tame wolf.”
“And you don’t like that.”
“Would you?” That got his eyes looking at her face.
“No, probably not. Although I’m not a wolf to start with.”
“No, you’re a rock.”
“Not a rock. An elf. Come in, Amadeus, if you mean me and mine no harm.”
“I couldn’t hurt you if you tried.”
“You’re not collared anymore. You can lie. You can attack me. You can hurt me.” She stepped out of his way. “My mother’s not home. Working.”
“You didn’t want to work this summer?” He frowned. “At the library?”
“Short shift, three times a week. I wanted some freedom.” She smirked at him. Freedom. They both knew that for a lie.
“Me, too.” He put a hand on her hip, the fingertips barely touching her. “But I got this instead.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?