Stamps Bonus Story
Week Three of Year Five of the Addergoole School
Until Year Five, Reid Solomon had been fairly careful about the privacy of his students’ minds. He could, and would, scan lightly, like running his fingers over the spines of books, to see who was paying attention, who was daydreaming, who just wasn’t getting the subject material, but until now, he’d never gone deeper without cause, not in the middle of class, at the very least.
But there’d been that scene with Eris, late in last year, and since then, there’d been rumors, just whispers, really, but the whispers combined with some things that Shira Pelletier had been saying all along – and with Shira’s kids, he could see why she’d be worried. Luke, he just got grumpy and thumped heads, Mike slept with his problem students. And Regine was loathe to move without proof. But Reid could give her, if not proof, then at least directions in which Luke could start looking.
Trig wasn’t all that hard a class; he’d been teaching it since the grandparents of most of these kids were in school. He let his mind wander while his hands and mouth handled the teaching.
Aelgifu, wearing her ancestry on her face and her insecurity in her shoulders, her want to be normal palpable. Who had she ended up with for a Mentor? Sang Ki? A weird fit, but it might work for her. He left her to her thoughts, mostly trig and her Mentor’s pretty daughter Ioanna, and studied her brother.
Half-brother, of course; he’d never known Aelfgar to stick around any women long enough to make full siblings. He and Agmund had that in common. And Yngvi was far less sanguine than his sister. Ardell? Ah, yes, Luke had mentioned that. Nasty piece of work, and it seemed that he was scoping Vi even now. Reid shot a couple questions at Ardell – maybe he’d actually pay attention to math for once in his four years here – and went back to looking through the students’ minds.
Manira was focused on her trig, with a little train of thought devoted to Ambrus’ abs. Reid had never really considered the Director’s pet to have abs, per sé, and wondered if perhaps the boy had laid on the besottment a little too heavily. Nikolai was steady and even. Wanted a girlfriend, worried about his friends. Who this year? Finnegan, Bowen, Nikita, Jamian. Nick and Alex had a knack for collecting them.
Finnegan, there – his mind was full of confused images and feelings about Allyse. Her teeth in his skin were at the forefront of the thoughts, and he jerked his shirt up, trying to hide a growing torque of hickeys that his Keeper had intended not to be hidden. But for all that, there was something like affection, or at least the confused beginnings of it. She might bite him, but she wasn’t beating him.
Dawfyyd, now, he was no happier with Ardell’s presence in this class than Yngvi was, but Davy’s reasons were, if nothing else, older. Reid felt for the kid; for all of the horror stories, Davy was his core example of what was wrong with Addergoole. Families should be able to rely on each other. (That had worked wonderfully with Meshach and Shadrach, hadn’t it? Reid wondered, sometimes, what would happen to their little brother when Regine finally let him attend). Davy and Ardell hadn’t had it all that bad, from what he could tell, growing up together, but Dawfyyd had shown up Year Four to find his big brother changed into something different and, in Reid’s private opinion, monstrous. No wonder he clung so tightly to Gennie; she and Richard and Coy were helping fill that void.
But right now, Davy was thinking about her in ways entirely not appropriate for Trig class and none of Reid’s business. The professor slipped out of the boy’s mind, threw another question at Ardell and then one at Davy, and looked around the room.
Melchior was daydreaming. It was his second time through Trig already; Reid called his attention back to class. He could think about the new Daeva on his own time.
Yngvi’s thoughts were looping; Reid took pity on him and nudged them elsewhere. Someone cute… oh, that wasn’t going to help, although the boy had good taste. Joff’s mother had been lovely, too. Possibly just the math problem at hand? There, that ought to keep him busy for a while.
Joff – Reid distracted himself for a moment, as he always did if he caught the boy in profile, remembering the boy’s mother. Jezebel, she’d called herself, a stunning beauty with the same high cheekbones and long eyelashes as her son, and a wild demon in the bedroom; Reid had been glad, albeit a bit guiltily so, however, that Regine had other ideas for fathering the girl’s children. A wonderful woman, but she was a whore by profession (with a name like that, could there be any doubt?) and Reid didn’t like the idea of his children being raised in a brothel.
Joff… Reid wasn’t going to posit that the kid had turned out all right. He was doing decently, now, with Rafe and Renata, but he’d gone after that collar like he was hunting big game, and his thoughts had the feeling of steel-walled orders to them, even without Meshach to blame.
Damnit, had anyone in his class avoided being Kept? Mel, of course, and Nikolai, and Alefgar’s kids weren’t collared yet. And Channing, good girl. Five out of fourteen wasn’t bad, for this place.
And yet there was Shahin. He tried not to frown at her; the ugly leather collar around her throat wasn’t her fault. Of all the Fifth Cohort, he’d assumed she would be safe – so self-possessed, so calm, that she’d seemed able to walk through all of the tricks the upperclassmen used without mussing a curl on her perfectly-coiffed hair.
Luke had shown him the video. She had, actually, managed to walk away from Baram unscathed, leaving the brute shaking in his boots. So what was she doing wearing a collar?
He dipped into her mind while he threw another question at Melchior. Collars, Shahin. Whose collar is it, and how did you get shanghaied into it?
She didn’t have an immensely well-organized mind, not like some of his Grigori-bloodline students, but it was an icy place, her mind, full of a kind of steel he hadn’t encountered before. This wasn’t the walls of being Owned, of being commanded and tied up in your own head with orders – he could see the Ownership in her head, but with her, it was bending the walls rather than creating them.
Collars. It took no prodding at all to get her to think about the collar around her neck. Emrys had put it there, buckled it around her neck and ordered her not to take it off. She hated it; it was ugly, and heavy, and clashed with her clothes. Underlying that was a small thread of pleasure: he wanted her to hate it. He wanted her to know she was his and his alone; he wanted to break her, but he wasn’t going to. It wasn’t that easy. Under that… The insecurity would be overwhelming, if it weren’t so tidily packed into boxes. What if he hates me? was all mixed up with he doesn’t like the way I dress and I’m nothing special, here and a dozen other teenaged anxieties being reinforced and shoved around by the unfamiliar heat of the bond.
Reid frowned faintly and distracted Ardell with a question before he studied the girl’s mind more. She was resilient, amazingly so – was she going to be another Aella sh’Rachel? Given the parentage, he’d expected her to be more flexible. He poked experimentally.
No. She wouldn’t freak out, because it wasn’t in her nature to freak out. Even if it had been, she didn’t seem immune to the mind control. The threads were there in her head, reinforcing the walls she kept around her emotions.
But Kept? That resilient, how had she managed to get herself collared? Emrys was a sneaky little weasel, what his father could have been if he’d been allowed to thrive, but she was clever, and wouldn’t have been all that easy to sway.
Oh! Reid threw questions at Melchior, Carter, and poor Channing to give himself a moment to deal with the viper-sharp train of thought he’d run into.
One week. I can survive anything for one week. I can survive this collar; I can survive his smug arrogance. Anything. And when that week is over…
Reid spared a moment of pity for Emrys. Whatever he thought he was doing, he had no idea what he’d gotten himself involved with. If his father thought Regine was a tough nut…
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