September 12, 2015 by Lyn
I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed
I’d call that a bargain
“Thank you again, Professor Pelletier.” The world was still more than a little cockeyed, but Shahin felt more confident as she left her newly-minted Mentor’s office. Even here, in the world of vampires and boyfriends who breathed fire, she’d felt a little out of place explaining her visions. Her experience with Barem had shown her that even monsters could be creeped out by knowing the details of their death.
Professor Pelletier, however, understood. She’d asked pointed, pertinent questions about the visions, about how they’d changed since Shahin had come to the school, and asked to know if they changed further, now that Shahin was also, it seemed, Changing. Then she’d deftly steered the conversation to more personal matters.
Wary of revealing too much – this place, too, had a psychologist – Shahin had still found herself revealing her concerns, her fears. It helped, in a sense, that she and Emrys had bickered earlier in front of the Professor, but that didn’t explain her willingness to share her concerns about Ayla with this relative stranger.
“Are you…” she’d had to search for the right word… “steering me?” she’d demanded, on the tail of revealing her Ayla-nightmares. The Professor had taken her accusation seriously, and answered in what at least looked like an honest manner.
“Only in that I’m willing to listen without judging. It sounds as if that’s been uncommon in your life.”
“Extinct,” she’d muttered, and changed the subject. Considering Emrys’ closed-mouthedness, she’d expected the professor to be similarly stingy with information, but Pelletier – “Go ahead and call me Shira, it makes life easier” – had been forthcoming in answering all of Shahin’s questions except one.
“Seriously? Seriously a graduation requirement? Why?“
Shira had frowned, shaking her head in what was a pretty good approximation of real regret. “Sadly, in some ways, the staff’s hands are tied as much as the students’. If you’d met my daughter, you’d understand my feelings on the matter – but I can’t explain it, I’m afraid.”
“I expected as much,” Shahin had said, and, although honest, it had allowed them to divert into a line of jokes about visions that had sufficed to get them away from the uncomfortable topic.
On one of Shahin’s other projects, however, her Mentor had been far more helpful. “Phelen cy’Fridmar is the only student I know who has the proper Words for that Working, and he will be interesting to negotiate with. You’d almost do better to work with his crew-mate Shiva cy’ Mendosa and cut a deal with her to help you get him around to your way of thinking.”
She didn’t like the idea of dealing with Phelen one way or the other, but she needed to do something, and this was the only idea that had come to her. If only dealing with Emrys was as facile as the idea she’d come up with to “help” Anatoliy (If only the administration didn’t actually frown on killing your Kept. He’d said nothing about beating to a pulp, though, except to suggest that it was completely within the rules for her to do so.)
She wondered how far she could push him before he’d hate her forever when he was free. She wondered, considering what he’d done to her, if she cared if he did. Of course, given exactly what he’d done, the decision was no longer that clear-cut. She was just going to have to break him, like she’d originally intended.
She’d told him she’d meet him in the Dining Hall for dinner, but she was a little early. Probably better to get the meeting with Phelen out of the way before he got here, anyway.
And there he was, sitting at a table with Shiva. She walked crisply across the Hall before she could change her mind.
“Ooh, it’s dark and stormy,” he smirked. “Lose your Keeper? Looking for a new one?”
“That would be… entertaining,” she smirked lazily. “But I doubt it would be pleasant for either of us.” She turned deliberately to Shiva. “Do you think I could borrow him for a moment?”
“He’s not mine, darling,” the cat-girl drawled, “but you’re welcome to him. But you break him, you bought him.”
“Like that’s a concern,” Phelen scoffed. Nevertheless, he stood, gesturing towards an isolated corner of the Hall. “Step into my office, short and moody.”
She smiled sweetly. “Thanks, Shiva. I’ll be sure not to dent him too badly.”
Standing at the edge of his puddle of shadow, she explained what she wanted, quickly and concisely. He nodded, his shoulders shifting position, his moody hunch vanishing as he got down to business. “I can do it. It will cost you, though.”
“Maybe an exchange of powers?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“You’ve got some useful Words for making things happen, if the rumors I hear are right.”
“You want something frozen?”
“I want someone nudged in the right direction.”
“That direction being…”
“Anyone in specific, or dealer’s choice?” She wondered, all at once: was she becoming the Addergoole panderer? How had Phelen known what Words she had when she barely knew. If she had the ability to “nudge someone in the right direction,” would that make her self-appointed task helping Anatoliy easier?
“My choice of person and time. I don’t want to end up with Ardell all hot and bothered for me.”
“I suppose that’s a fair concession.” He was asking her to coerce a woman into his bed, presumably so he could impregnate her, so that he could graduate. From the look on his face, he expected her to say no. She hedged. “So, to be specific, you want me to…”
“To use ntinn, hugr, qorawiyay, and aistrigh to make a girl I pick, at a time I pick, agree to have sex with me.”
“You want me to act as a human Rohypnol. That’s rather creepy.”
“Well, if you don’t want me to do your little craft project for you, I’m sure someone else might have a less ‘creepy’ price. Oh, wait. No-one else here can do it.”
“What’s short dark and creepy trying to talk you into now?” cut Emrys’s voice as he approached
“Oh, just into doing a favor for her,” Phelen answered. “But she doesn’t want to pay the price.”
“What kind of price?” he asked warily, stepping up behind Shahin and placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, just a little nudge on the right girl at the right time. Nothing strenuous.”
Shahin turned to look at Emrys, watching his face. “He wants me to nudge a girl into his bedroom.”
He seemed nonplussed. Of course. Damn him. His voice, however, did betray some concern. “Is that something you’re willing to be a part of?” he asked cautiously.
“It’s not all that different from what I’d be doing for Anatoliy.”
“That’s still my concern, it doesn’t have to be yours.” Phelen observed their change of subject with some apparent interest.
She smiled sharply. “Of course it does.” She turned back to Phelen. “A couple conditions.”
Phelen’s interest shifted to caution. “What sort of conditions?”
“Not Aelgifu. Not Vi, though that wouldn’t help you anyway. Not Agatha, though I don’t think I need to say that, Nydia, or Ioanna.”
“So not your crew or his.” Phelen nodded. “That’s reasonable.”
“And considering what you’re trying to do, you had better be nice to them if you succeed.” She realized she was glaring, but didn’t bother to rein it in.
The creep looked perplexed. “Nice? What does nice have to do with it?”
“Well, since ‘honest’ doesn’t seem to be a factor around here, ‘nice’ is a tolerable substitute for actually being honorable. And it’s the qualifier for me doing this little thing for you. Agree that you’ll treat her well if you succeed in impregnating or Owning her. And by well I mean as if you actually respect and care about her.”
“You want me to play boyfriend?”
“You should try it sometime. It might work.”
“All right,” he conceded reluctantly. “So, you promise that, at a time of my choosing, you will use your ability with intinn, hugr, qorawiyay, and aistrigh to encourage the girl of my choosing, who will not be Aelgifu, Agatha, Nydia, or Ioanna, to sleep with me. And in return…”
“In return, you will make this collar for me, as we discussed, at a time of my choosing, and promise that, if you succeed in impregnating or Owning the girl I help to your bed, you will…”
“Will treat her with respect and dignity, show compassion for herself and any children thereof, be responsible for said children, and be bound by Shahin’s definitions of those terms within logistical reason, said definitions to be clarified at any time subsequent to the swearing of this oath until its cessation, which shall not be prior to the end of said girl’s Belonging to you or two years following the birth of any and all children of such union, with the more enduring term taking precedence,” Emrys finished in a rapid stream.
Phelen smiled and nodded until Emrys began talking, and his face fell quickly, scowling at the other boy. “I do so swear,” he grumbled.
Shahin paused to look at Emrys with a moment of newfound respect, before turning back to Phelen. “And, with those conditions, I swear to do as we’ve agreed.”
Phelen nodded, clearly not sure he’d won out anymore. “Right then.” He looked as if he was about to walk away, but Shahin held out her hand. “I’ll have that collar now.”
He looked over at Emrys with narrowed eyes, and nodded grumpily. “You should hold still,” he warned him, “or I might choke you. Accidentally, of course.”
Emrys frowned, but was otherwise still. “What exactly is he doing?,” he asked Shahin.
“What you just helped me bargain for,” she answered him unhelpfully. Still, as Phelen started chanting softly, she took Emrys’ hands in her own.
He just watched her, waiting for whatever would come.
As Phelen chanted, a thin lock of Shahin’s hair snaked itself out of her hairdo and coiled around Emrys’ throat, braiding itself into a complicated six-strand plait as it did so. The chanting shifted a little, and the braid detached from her, and sealed itself into a smooth, continuous loop around his neck.
The chanting trailed to an end, and Phelen nodded curtly, finished. Smiling, Shahin looped a finger into the front of the newly-formed collar and gave it a short, testing tug. “Mine,” she purred, pleased.
“Mmm,” was Emrys’s only verbal response, sounding neither pleased nor displeased, but he nodded slightly.
“And I suppose I should feed you. And this little parasite,” she added dryly, laying one hand on her stomach.
“Damn,” Phelen snorted, “that was fast. It’s not even October yet.”
“And I see you’re taking it slow, resorting to mind control so quickly. You might try paying attention to a girl while she’s vertical sometime.”
“What, and end up with a collar? No thank you.”
“Thank you, Phelen,” Shahin cut in. “I’m sure we’ll talk to you again when you’re ready to finish our deal. Emrys?”
“Let’s go,” he nodded.
Dinner itself was uneventful – Vi was subdued, Ayla and Ioanna shyly affectionate, and Shahin’s stomach cooperative – and it wasn’t long before they were heading back to her room. She looked him over as she opened her room, and couldn’t help a small smile. “It looks good on you.”
“You always look good on me,” he agreed as he stepped inside.
She shook her head. “Just when I think you can’t get any cockier.” She shut the door and leaned against it.
“So what’s the agenda for the rest of the evening?”
“I do believe we had an argument scheduled.”
“Right.” He sat on the bed. “Well, go ahead and start it, then.”
“Babies, or at least this one, and the planning for the same.” She flopped on the bed, a few feet from him. “And the handing me of one of those blue pills.” The pain in her arms had just started coming back, but it was coming back with a vengeance.
He fished a pill from the bottle in his pocket and handed it over. “Do we have to argue about the planning? We both intend to do right by him, right?”
“There’s really only two problems with that theory.” She swallowed the pill. “Thank you. One – we have to come to an agreement on what ‘do right by him’ means.”
“Okay, well, that part doesn’t sound too hard.”
“One hopes. And two, we have to be able to stand each other’s presence somehow, long enough to… damn. For the foreseeable future. But at least long enough to send our son here.”
“We were doing pretty well at that before.”
“When you Owned me?”
“And even after we switched, until, well…”
“Until I found out what …” she trailed off, frowning. “How much choice did you have? Really?”
“I need two kids here, just like everyone else. I avoided it my whole first year, because I didn’t find the right girl.”
“So you could have chosen not to. But, considering the pills, that would have required either telling me about them, or not having sex with me.” She blinked at him owlishly. “This would be easier to deal with if you’d have some sort of emotion about it.”
“And I physically couldn’t tell you about them… What do you mean?”
“You’re so cool about this.” She made a face, realizing how that sounded, coming from her. “As if it doesn’t affect you. As if we’re talking about the weather.”
“I don’t see why I should be upset about any part of it except your displeasure.”
She twisted to look at him more clearly, wondering if he were, yet again, laughing at her, but he didn’t seem to be. “Then you’re happy about this baby?”
“Of course I am.”
“Of course?” She shook her head.
“I needed a baby. I wanted you to have my baby. And now we’re planning to raise him. Why would I not be happy?”
She studied him for a moment, his implacable logic leaving her little opening. “So that leaves you being displeased that I’m upset over this.”
“I wouldn’t phrase it quite so coldly, but that’s the gist of it. More disappointed, though not surprised. It is rather a shock.”
“That’s an understatement.” She sat up in lieu of actually reaching out to him. “And haven’t most of our conversations been rather cold? Apart, of course, from the sex. You play your cards as close to the chest as I do.”
“This place doesn’t exactly encourage an open and trusting nature.”
“No. And I don’t believe either of us are, as a rule, the open and trusting sort. But you’re in my hands for the week. Trust me.”
He nodded slowly, watching her carefully.
She watched him as well. She’d phrased it as a command intentionally, but, having done so, actually felt a little regret. She remembered what it had felt like, when he’d gone from commanding her actions to commanding her emotions. Like a puppet. Like a doll.
“What does it feel like?” she murmured.
“It’s strange,” he said quietly. “Like opening a window that was only a wall a moment before.”
She nodded. “Too much?” she asked gently, wondering if he could even answer that.
“I don’t know. It’s very… different.”
“I can imagine.” She could, too, if distrust came half as easily to him as it did to her, what it must be like to have that ripped away. “So. Our son.”
“Our son,” he smiled broadly.
She sifted through the ways to continue, and finally settled on “You want to raise him. Together.” It tasted nicer than she’d expected on her tongue, together.
“Together,” he agreed. “As… well, I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that part out later.”
She nodded, stifling a wince. She couldn’t let herself get used to the idea of being a couple. “Raising a child together as adversaries seems counter-productive,” she pointed out.
“Well, yes,” he chuckled. “But I don’t think we’re ready yet to define exactly what we want to be to each other for the next sixteen years.”
“Maybe Saturday morning?” she couldn’t help teasing.
“It’ll be easier then, certainly. We can discuss if either or both of us want to Belong, for more than a week.”
“Both?” The idea had both its appeal and its own level of stomach-twisting terror
“It does happen. Mabina&Cassidy Belong mutually, although they’re rather a special case anyway. It’s viewed as something akin to marriage.”‘
“Mabina and Cassidy? The elf twins?” She used the question as a spacer to buy her time, trying to wrap her mind around the concept.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “You might want to talk to them about it. They probably won’t even charge you. Though like I said, their case is a bit different from anyone else.”
“We can talk to them together,” she decided. “But you’re right. We’re not ready to make that sort of decision yet.” She looked at him for a moment, contemplating her next move. It seemed like cheating, asking information of him like this. Of course, hadn’t he been cheating, too…? “What did you want to get out of Owning me?”
He paused in thought for a long moment. “I wanted you,” he eventually said. “I wanted to see if you were as strong as I thought, or if you would break like so many others do. When you didn’t break, I wanted you to be comfortable with the thought of being mine.”
“Do you think you succeeded?”
“I can’t be sure,” he shrugged. “You feel very different, when you’re on either end of the bond. We’ll talk about it next week.”
She nodded slowly. It was a fair answer. “I rescind the command to trust me,” she said, with a little regret. “It’s too much like cheating.”
He chuckled softly, nodding. “It is, at that.”
“I’d prefer to win fairly,” she added, smirking.
“We’ll see what happens next week,” he grinned.
“You have to make it through this week, first.”
“Were you planning on stopping that?”
“I plan to let you walk out of here alive at the end. Our son needs a father, after all.”
“And our daughter?” he smirked.
She twitched sharply. “Our daughter? Have you been keeping things from me?”
He paused a long moment, as if considering his reply, and just as she was about to rebuke him he burst out laughing. “No, no, I’m just fucking with you.”
She twitched again, but it was just too much. He was so blasted smug and self-assured. She slapped him, her hand hitting his cheek with a sharp, satisfying smack.
He stopped laughing, but it didn’t wipe the smile off his face. “Feel better?”
“Not yet,” she snarled.
“You needed that, admit it.”
“You…” She caught her breath, and was surprised to find she was smiling. “You smug, manipulative asshat.”
“Guilty as charged,” he smiled back at her.
“I should hit you again for that.” But the tension had drained out of her.
“Go ahead, if you want.”
“That’s how it works, right? I can do what I want to you?” She had lost all urge to hurt him, though. “Take off your shirt.”
“You can,” he nodded as he complied.
“You have no fear or concern that I’ll actually do you harm, do you?”
“I don’t think you’ll do anything Caitrin can’t fix. And I know that I can’t do anything about it right now regardless.”
“Well, there’s that, at least.”
She stripped off her gloves and ran her hands over his chest. Little sparks of ice and fire shot off harmlessly where their skin met.
“You thought I might break. You don’t think you will?”
“I don’t. I’ve been watching all this for a year already.”
“Mm. That was pretty good, with Phelen. Thank you.” She pushed him lightly to the bed.
“I am cy’Drake, after all.”
“Still new,” she reminded him, as she straddled him.
“Drake teaches Law,” he smiled up at her. “It’s a little harder to pull the wool over our eyes on an oath. Phelen is cy’Fridmar, you can expect him to be ruthless.”
“A little harder to type. But in a word, I’d say practical.”
“Hrm. Not a word usually applied to me.” She slipped out of her dress and tossed it to the side.
“Well, you also haven’t been under her influence long,” he noted as he admired her.
“Fair point.” She ran her nails down his chest slowly, watching how the tattoos shivered out of the way, only to twist back into their letters. “So I can still be impractical.”
“It’s only a stereotype anyway. Same way not all cy’Lindens are whores…” He shifted slightly under her touch, as if his skin wanted to press against her.
She slid her nails back up his chest, letting him feel them a little more sharply this time. “That’s good. I’m still feeling rather frivolous.”
“Frivolous has its perks,” he smiled.
“I’m glad you agree,” she smiled. She went harder with the fingernails this time, skidding them to a stop just above his pants. “You’re wearing too many clothes.”
She loved being naked atop him, almost as much as she enjoyed the sex. She lay that way against his fingernail-scored chest, her lips against his tattoos, panting happily. If this was all there was, there’d be no need to fight.
His hands on her back felt safe and comforting. She almost felt ashamed for hitting him, except that he’d wanted her to. Had twisted the situation until she did, because he knew she needed it. What a strange man.
“Does anything frighten you?” It was random. It wasn’t even the question foremost in her mind, but the only one that seemed not totally inappropriate for the situation.
“Anything?” he murmured quietly, apparently caught off guard by the question. “Well, sure.”
“Tell me one thing.” She was feeling magnanimous, or perhaps just trusting, so she added, “and I’ll tell you one of mine.”
“The Thornes. Those are some scary bitches.”
“The… ah, yes.” She nodded, remembering the girls he was talking about. “They seem rather tough.”
“And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re weasels with the Law. People just dig themselves in a deeper and deeper hole with them.”
“No, but I’ve seen it happen. When Acacia owned Carter, when Allyse owned Aviv. And plenty of other things that didn’t go that far.”
She nodded slowly. “There’s a lot of that going around here. It’s a wonder anyone walks out sane.”
“At least they’ve got their kids now.” His brow furrowed. “Well, mostly… Sima might still need one.”
She resisted the urge to belittle his concern with an I’ll protect you. “You managed to avoid them last year. More cy’Drake?”
“Cy’Doug, actually, which is highly unusual. But they’ve never been interested in me anyway.”
She hugged him firmly. “More for me,” she smiled.
“Yeah, you don’t seem the sharing sort.”
“Not in the least. I’m very greedy like that.”
“I can live with that.”
“Who would I share you with, anyway? I have one female friend here, and she’s gay.”
“Stranger things have happened, around here. She’ll have to come up with two kids too, y’know.”
She frowned. “And Vi. How does that work?”
“They make do,” he shrugged. “Sometimes, those people get together and make it happen, regardless of any desire.”
“Um.” She blinked at him. “Totally aside from the fact that the right Words could probably manufacture a pretense of desire…. you do remember the part where Ayla and Vi are probably half-brother and -sister, right?”
“Oh, ‘probably’ and ‘half’,” he said dismissively. “That’s not that bad, considering the gene pool we’re working with. A significant percentage of students here can probably trace their ancestry to Professor Vanderlinden one way or another.”
“Still… that seems wrong. Wronger than everything else here. Asking Ayla to just, what, grit her teeth and bear it?”
“I’m not asking her to, I’m just saying that’s one thing people do. She’ll find a way.”
She nodded slowly. “Okay. I’ll worry about that later, I guess.” She looked down at him wryly. “You’re enough to worry about for now.”
“And you might want to tell her. That’s generally how most of the new students find out; someone finds out like you did, or through a few other ways, and since the new students aren’t bound not to tell…”
She nodded. ”When you thought I was going to go tell people, you were worried,” she pointed out.
“There’s a difference between privately filling in your friends, and shouting it in the halls.”
She nodded again, slowly. ”I’ll tell them tomorrow.”
“So, you’re going to tell me one of yours?”
“One of… ah. I was hoping you’d forgotten that,” she admitted.
“Well, it was your idea.”
“Well, we all have bad ideas from time to time.” She took a long breath and studied the wall above her bed. “I’m scared of dogs,” she admitted quietly, “but I don’t think that really counts.”
“It’s kind of a different thing,” he agreed.
“I’m afraid I really am insane,” she whispered. An echo of pain shot through her wrists to punctuate the admission.
“Not any more than any of the rest of us, I think.” His words were light-hearted, but his tone and, when she dared to look, his eyes, were serious.
She smiled weakly at him. “Most people don’t see their boyfriends’ deaths.”
“Most people don’t do any of the things we do.”
“Like spend their teens going from psychiatrist to psychiatrist?” she snapped.
“Well, there’s only one psychiatrist here for the rest of your teen years,” he smiled.
She glared at him. “You’re determined to convince me that my childhood wasn’t weird, aren’t you?”
“Not at all; just that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
She didn’t know how to reply to that. Saying she wasn’t ashamed would be a lie. Thanking him… didn’t seem appropriate. ”Tell me about your father.”
“Ambrus?” He bristled slightly. “He’s a lapdog.”
“Ambrus? The Director’s… Assistant?”
“Ha, yes. I thought you knew. Regine’s pet,” he said with evident distaste.
“Well, there is a certain resemblance,” she said slowly, “though I hadn’t noticed it until now.”
“I’ve got his deep brown eyes and pale skin,” he nodded. “Although it darkens up a bit if I can actually get some sun.”
“And his tattoos,” she pointed out. ”Why do you hate him?”
“He’s not just a lapdog, he’s happy being a lapdog. Spineless. No drive, no ambition.”
“Didn’t you want me to be happy being your pet?”
“No… well, not like that. I’m glad you didn’t break.”
“Me, too.” She smiled gently, not really understanding his animosity. “But he’s Kept, no?”
“Yeah. But he pretty much chooses to be. He doesn’t understand anything else.”
“You’ve talked to him about it, then?”
“More to Mom than him. I understand what he is.”
“Was he in your life, growing up?”
“Of course not. He never lifted a finger for Mom.”
“Ah,” she nodded, finally understanding. She ran her finger over the braid of her hair collaring him. “Are you happy?”
“Happy?” He eyed her skeptically. “Generally, yeah.”
“Here. Now. With me.”
“I’d be happier if you weren’t so tense, but I can’t blame you for that. Overall though, yes.”
“You’re the one who introduced himself to me by grabbing my collar,” she pointed out, but she was smiling.
“You were just flaunting it like you wanted to be owned,” he smiled back.
“Nah, I just wanted attention,” she admitted. “Little did I know…”
“How much you’d get?” he laughed.
“Just you. I heeded your warning and changed.”
“Probably for the best.”
“Probably.” She kissed the hollow of his throat. “I suppose I can just relax and enjoy this.”