Chapter 35: Abednego

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

“All right.  Don’t forget to do your homework this time, class, and tomorrow we’re going to be moving on to the next chapter.”  Professor Valerian nodded at all of them.  “So be ready, bring fresh pens, and try to get a good night of sleep tonight, all of you.”

Abednego did not laugh at his professor.  He did not want to bring her attention down on him, not after the mess that had happened last time.  The last thing he wanted was for her to get involved again, get Rafe all worked up, and be stuck in another fight about why things didn’t work.

Which they wouldn’t.  He’d hoped for a while that something would happen.  Joff had taken him out to look at the outside; that had been nice, if futile.  Zita had been rescued, because Zita, whose Keeper broke down in tears randomly and tended to shout a lot, clearly needed rescue.  

Somewhere, someone was paying attention to something. And they’d actually done something effective — at least, when he saw Zita now, she looked more like a person and less like a puppet.

That told him it hadn’t been a teacher.  As far as he could tell, the teachers didn’t notice anything they didn’t want to, and when they did, they didn’t have a damn idea what to do about it.

If they’d asked Abednego, if he could answer, if he didn’t think it could come back on his head — he stacked up his papers and took as long as he dared to finish packing up.  Kick their asses until they give in seemed a better option than negotiate ‘till it’s more like a meat market than a rescue.

But no, new students were just meat.  No wonder Shad and Meesh had enjoyed it so much here.  That was how they treated everyone. Sometimes, Abednego wondered if it would be easier, just to—

His papers went flying off his desk, scattering all over the room.  “Shit!”  Fuck, was he allowed to swear?  There’d been that thing with Eris and his mouth getting the better of him and —

He wasn’t allowed to swear in front of Eris.  Since he wasn’t allowed to talk to Eris, this was usually a moot point.

“Fuck,” he muttered.  Eris wasn’t here.  Nobody but — shit, fuck, damn — Professor Valerian.  

“Oh, let me help you, Abednego.”  She scooped up papers and began stacking them tidily for him — not, he noticed, stopping to look at anything, as if he had any privacy at all to respect.   What if he’d scrawled a big HELP ME on one of the sheets before they went flying?  “Everything all right?” she murmured, like someone was listening.

Someone probably was listening.  “Everything’s fine.”  He began shoving papers back into his bag.  “Good class, ma’am.  I really enjoyed that last bit, with the voices.”

She snorted, successfully diverted.  What did she think asking would do, anyway? “I thought maybe that would work with the two asleep in the back of — oh!” Abednego’s papers had gone flying again.

Sleeping in class again? The voice creaked and screeched like old furniture and nails on chalkboards.  Yet somewhere under all that, it was Professor Valerian.  You know, if you’re not getting sleep at home…

Shut up shut up shut up shut up!  It was Abednego’s voice, the way it sounded inside his own head, a hissing whisper that nobody but him could hear.

…That he’d thought nobody but him could hear.  What do you care? What do you even see?  You haven’t seen anything and you want to stay blind, because what will seeing get you?  

Seeing, answered the screech of Professor Valerian’s voice, just makes you blinder.

Professor Valerian — the solid one in front of Abednego — stiffened and frowned.  “Abednego…”  Her voice held anger and warning and a glacial vengeance.

“It’s not me!”  If he yelped it, who could blame him?  “This keeps happening! Every time I turn around, something’s sparking or falling or —”

His papers went flying all over the place again.

“Or that!” he shouted.  “And what am I supposed to do, hunh?  Why the fuck prank me?  It’s probably some jerk who thinks I’m Shadrach or something.  Like brothers are all the same, I mean —”

“Abednego.”

Rafe’s voice cut across the room and Abednego froze.  Professor Valerian stood up,all ice and rocks.  “Ah, Rafe.  Good, you’re here.” She made it sound as if it was his fault somehow.  “We’ve been having a bit of an issue with some sort of prankster here —”

“I’ll make sure Abednego knows not to pull that sort of prank, ma’am.”

“I can handle my own discipline, thank you very much.” What was she doing, being harsh with Rafe?  He was just going to take it out on Abednego when they got back to the room!  He’d gotten way too good at things that didn’t leave marks, another skill he’d probably learned from Abednego’s brothers.  Not that it mattered, Abednego probably should have showed up to gym class covered in bruises and cuts and Luke would just growl at him for being clumsy.

Abednego realized he was staring and tried to look away, but something in Professor Valerian’s expression held his attention.  She was looking at Rafe, and it looked like she was actually seeing him.

Abednego didn’t bother hoping.  Hoping was ridiculous.  But he held his breath anyway.

“You don’t need to worry about young Abed here in my class, Rafe.  He’s a well-behaved child who never gets into any trouble at all, and I’m sure he won’t do anything that would call your responsibility for him into question.”

Fuck what was that supposed to mean?  Rafe had gone stiff.  

“Of course he wouldn’t, ma’am.  He’s a good boy and a good Kept, and a good student, right?  Kept learn fast how to be good students, here at Addergoole.

This time, it was Professor Valerian who twitched.  “Yeah… yes.  You’ve always been a fairly decent student, haven’t you, Rafe.  Well, let’s get this mess picked up so you two can get on to dinner.  Don’t forget your homework, Abed.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Abednego was confused and worried and a little lost.  Rafe was picking up his papers, looking at them and stacking them tidily.

“You got a hundred on a history test?”  It was hard to tell if Rafe was angry or impressed.  It was often hard to tell that, with Rafe.

“You told me to study,” Abednego pointed out politely.  He didn’t want to be polite right now.  He wanted to run away.  Running seemed like a very good idea… but he wasn’t even sure if he could, given his orders, and he knew it would make things so much worse in the long run.  “And so I studied.”

He had studied for hours, because it was the only order he had, and Rafe had been in the main room drinking with Eris.  He could probably tell Professor Valerian things she didn’t know about the text and his notes. But he’d gotten a hundred.

“Your — they — “ Rafe frowned.  “Shadrach and Meshach never cared about studying.”

“No,” Abednego agreed carefully.  “They didn’t.” They never had.  Back home, even the teachers had been scared of them.  Abednego had wondered, on occasion, if that’s what had happened here, too.

Rafe smiled, but it was the grim sort of smile that Abednego had learned to distrust.  “You’re not going to be like them.”

Shit.  There was no point in arguing with that tone.  “No, sir.  I’m not going to be like them.”

“Come on.  You can study for your math test.  I’ll make dinner.”

Abednego was fairly certain that wasn’t an improvement.  “Yes, sir.”

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