Wednesday, October 25, 2000
“Abednego.” Professor Valerian’s hand landed on his shoulder. “I know Professor Cayenne is your mentor, but I’ve noticed you’re having quite a bit of trouble focusing in my class, and I’m not sure she can help with that. Would you like to come to my office and discuss it?”
Abednego swallowed. “I, no, that’s okay, ma’am. I’ll figure something out.”
“How are you doing, anyway? Kids aren’t giving you trouble, are they? I know your brothers…”
“They’re not me, okay?” It came out in a rush, words he could say, because he was supposed to answer teachers as long as it wasn’t about Rafe or his crew, words he’d been wanting to say for days and weeks on end. “They’re assholes, and I get that, but why doesn’t anyone ever think about the fact that they were assholes before they came to Addergoole? This place may be a hellhole—.” Shit, could he say that? Well, he had. “But I don’t think anyone has any idea what living with them was like before they came here. I mean… okay. Three, six people probably have a good idea. But they were my brothers. Are, I suppose.”
“I admit, I thought that their issues spawned out of this school, as so many do.” Professor Valerian was speaking slowly and carefully. “But you’re telling me that wasn’t so?”
“Oh, they probably got worse here. Magic powers? K— control over people, complete control? Nobody watching, nobody doing bed checks? No dad…” Abednego stalled, but it wasn’t like he had any pride left. “Dad wasn’t here to bully them, so they were free, too.” He rubbed his arms. “I bet they got worse. But they were horrible before.”
“Not my father. Just Dad.” He shook his head emphatically. “He wasn’t ever my father. That’s important. I didn’t get to—.”
“Abed, are you bothering Professor Valerian?”
“No, Rafe?” He swallowed around a sudden lump. He hadn’t heard his Keeper coming up on him. “She asked about my brothers.”
Rafe’s expression twisted, but for once it wasn’t aimed at Abednego. “Little late for that now, isn’t it? It’s a little late to go worrying about them, now that they’re gone and they’re not hurting us anymore.” He shook his head, as if trying to calm himself down. “He knows what monsters his brothers were. Everyone knows what bastards those shits are.” He paused, and his voice dropped lower. And they’re out in the world, now, aren’t they?”
“I have a feeling Abednego knows better than most what bastards his brothers are.” She said the word without flinching. “But I wouldn’t assume they went unpunished.”
“Yeah, well.” Rafe’s hand was tight on Abednego’s arm. “I don’t think there’s enough punishment in the world for what they did.”
“There may not be, for revenge,” she agreed levelly, “but there has to be, for justice. Rafe, if it is bothering you, perhaps you and your crew should take a field trip with me.”
Rafe’s face did something strange. It went expressionless for a moment, and then twisted into disgust. “‘Bothering me?’ No, thank, Professor, I don’t think the word ‘bothering’ really covers it at all. Come on, Abed, you don’t want to bother the professor any more today.”
“All right.” He looked at the Professor as Rafe turned away. He didn’t want to upset her, but she couldn’t have bungled that more if she’d been trying. He shook his head at her and let Rafe drag him out of the classroom.
“What was that all about?” Rafe’s voice sounded deceptively conversational. Abednego didn’t pretend there was any less of an order hidden in the casual question.
“Professor Valerian wanted me to talk about Mentors, and then she started talking about my brothers.” It wasn’t acting when his voice twisted in disgust, but he felt shame and frustration anyway: that was how Rafe wanted him to feel about his brothers, and Rafe was trying to shape him into something, which was ridiculous, because Rafe didn’t even know what he was starting with, and…
Rafe was asking him a question. “I’m sorry?”
“What did she want to know about your brothers?”
“Nothing.” He sounded too grumbly, but it was too late to fix that. “I mean, she wanted to know if people were treating me differently because of what my brothers were like.”
“And what did you tell her?”
That question had hooks and thorns and poison in it. “I told her I wasn’t my brothers, and I’m not anything like them.” He rubbed his arms. It was true. It had always been true. What Rafe wanted didn’t have anything to do with it.
“No. You won’t be.”
Abednego tensed as Rafe flopped a possessive arm around him. “No.” He wanted to let it lie. He ought to let it lie. He should shut up and be a good little Kept. “I was never going to be like them. They’re poisonous bastards and they always have been.”
Rafe’s hand tightened on his bicep. “You’re not going to be like them. We’re going to make sure of it, Eris and me. And you’re going to remember not to talk back to me, aren’t you? Because good Kept don’t talk back.”
They were in public. People were watching. “Yes, sir,” Abednego muttered. Rafe was never going to listen, was he? He was never going to care, never going to think about what he was doing. “I won’t talk back, sir.” And where did you learn that good boys don’t talk back? I can guess.
“Of course you won’t. Come on, let’s get home. Dinner’s going to be on the table.” Rafe’s hand grew tighter. Abednego gritted his teeth and found himself yanking against Rafe’s hold. He knew better, but he couldn’t stand to be touched right now. “I know where the room is… sir.”
“Fine. Spend the rest of the night there, then. You’re not all that hungry, are you?”
“No.” He wasn’t, not now. “Yes, sir.” In the room. He walked ahead of Rafe, pretending it was because the order was pushing him. He’d overheard someone at lunch talking about rescuing people. Pulling people out of Keepings. Not him, though. He was some sort of bad apple. He wasn’t worth rescuing.
Rafe’s room was freezing. Abednego huddled in his corner, trying to get warm, grumbling wordlessly. He wasn’t hungry. He didn’t care. Even if he did, nobody else did. He pulled his knees closer to his chest, but nothing seemed to warm him up. He might die here. Then maybe someone would notice.
The lights flickered, snapped, and with a loud pop, the room went dark.