This is in response to Sky’s commission from my “Ack, Need Gas Money” commission drive. It is not currently canon, as it doesn’t fit, but if I succeed in re-writing Addergoole, that might change.
It takes place in Year 5 of the Addergoole School, on Christmas.
“This year, for the day of Christmas, we are going to do something different.”
The cafeteria fell silent, the whole room seeming to hold its breath. Different? Director Regine did not do that. Different? On Christmas Eve?
“I do believe it will be most educational for you, and I do hope it will serve as a present to those who most need it.”
Kailani frowned. The wording’s patterns were wrong. Next to her, Conrad was frowning as well.
“I believe I will let you discover the surprise for yourself, but if you do not, it will revealed at breakfast tomorrow morning. This will be a special Christmas breakfast, and attendance is not optional.”
“She’s reading a script.” Conrad’s breath was warm in Kai’s ear. She nodded; that made sense with the odd phrasing, although it didn’t make sense for Regine.
“One more note on this experiment. Please be aware that any attempt to gain ‘payback’ or retribution for what happens on Christmas will be absolutely forbidden.”
With that less than promising note, she left the stage.
“Payback? Retribution?” Kailani poked at her dinner. “That doesn’t sound pleasing.”
“It doesn’t sound like her, either.” Conrad’s tail was lashing against his chair. “I wonder what – or who – got into her.”
“I suppose we’re just going to have to wait and find out. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the presents.”
“I agree.” And that in itself was a Christmas Miracle; Mabina was agreeing with her. “Let’s us finish dinner, and then we can go and be sure it’s all ready for tomorrow.”
Jamian woke up Christmas morning feeling … weird. Weird was the best word he could put on it. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and there was a vague empty spot in the back of his brain.
Both feelings lasted until they reached breakfast – a wide and delicious spread of food seeming to be apologizing for getting them out of bed on a holiday. Then the Director walked up to the dais again.
“I told you that I would be giving you an interesting potential gift today. Many of you may have already begun to notice the effects of this gift, but in order to ensure that you get full use out of it, I felt I ought to explain.
“For twenty-four hours, beginning at 8 a.m. today, those who are Keeper and Kept will find their roles reversed. In the uncomfortable situation where one Keeper had more than one Kept, we have arranged things so that the Kept are, today, as a mutual Belonging so that they may in turn mutually Keep their Keeper.”
She clearly had more to say, but the room was getting loud with angry shouting. Jamian was unsurprised to find that Ty was among those yelling.
“Shhh. I want to hear this.” He didn’t do it so much to see what would happen, but because he didn’t feel any pressure not to shush his Keeper. The look on Ty’s face as his mouth snapped shut, however, was priceless.
“I will remind you of two things. First, that torture and murder are still against the school rules.” This time, everyone could see her glancing at Luke and Professor VanderLinden as she spoke. “Secondly, that today is to be considered reprisal-free. Indeed, if we have to, we will install geasa against any reprisal at all.”
“You have got to be kidding me!”
“Ardell,” Professor VanderLinden stood up, “If you have that much fear of what your Kept will do to you, perhaps you ought to reconsider how you are Keeping them.” And Jamian, at least, saw the way that the professor looked at Luke on that one.
“Twenty-four hours. I suggest you attempt to learn something from this present.” The Director left the stage.
“Hrrm.” Jamian glanced at his crew, who were all sharing uncomfortable looks with their former-Kept-currently-Keepers.
Finnegan watched his Keeper – his Kept – Allyse. He watched her sisters. He watched the front of the room, where the Director had dropped this bomb on them and left.
“You understand, runt…”
“I understand, Acacia.” He dared looking straight at her. “I’m not stupid.”
She raised one perfectly-painted eyebrow in something that was probably disbelief. “Prove it.”
It was interesting to not feel the pressure of Allyse’s orders requiring him to figure out how to obey that. Instead, Finnegan just smiled. “Give me twenty-four hours.”
“It’s already nine, runt.”
“I know. I’m going to need that extra hour once it flips.”
“Here’s hoping not.” Neither of them were blind to the fact that Allyse was staring off into space, her entire body strung tight like a bow. Neither of them missed that Sima’s hand was on her weapon.
Finnegan had to ignore it, because this was the only opportunity he was going to get. He stood up, looked around the cafeteria, and offered Allyse his hand.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t move. “Allyse.”
Her head snapped around, and he thought for a moment she might bite him. “What… oh.” Her expression shifted to something that looked sick and amused, a little curl of her lips. “That’s what that feels like.”
“Let’s go back to our room.” He moved his hand a little closer to her, and this time she took it.
“Runt.” Acacia’s voice was loaded with warning. He met her eyes again, feeling both daring and terrified.
“I understand, Acacia. I understand that tomorrow everything goes back to normal. I understand that no geasa in the world will stop you from gaining revenge if you think I’ve wronged your sister. Now… do you understand?”
She frowned at him. Next to him, Allyse had pulled on his hand and then, finally, stood. “Understand what?”
Finnegan found himself smiling. “That none of that matters… because none of that is why I am taking Allyse back to my room.”
“Shut up.” Callista’s voice felt ragged and unclear. Part of her brain was scrabbling for the comfort of the collar, the comfort of the Keeping.
It would be back tomorrow. She clawed at the physical collar. “Take this thing off me. Then go back to our room and stay there. You can talk as long as I’m not in earshot. No magic, obviously.”
He nodded and did as she said. He didn’t really have any choice, did he?
She wondered what it felt like.
Ardell wasn’t speaking.
Delaney was trying to, but he’d shaken his head at her, and she’d taken the order, even if she was the only actually free one in the room tonight.
Well, her and Aviv, but nobody counted squid boy.
The sounds coming from Uberto’s room were a little bit scary, if he was going to admit it to himself. Shera hadn’t bothered to close the door. Of course, Uber often forgot the close the door, too, but this time Ardell couldn’t get up and do it himself.
And Aneislis showed no signs of caring. As a matter of fact, the boy was smiling.
The expression did nothing for Ardell’s concerns or his comfort. He wanted to say you know, we all go through this. But nothing that had come out of his mouth had done anything but get him snapped at, so he was reverting back to first-year practices. Unless your master tells you to speak, don’t say anything at all.
“Aneislis.” Aviv’s voice cut the uncomfortable non-silence of the living room.
Ardell’s Keeper’s eyes went to the pack bitch. He didn’t say anything. He was doing a lot of it.
“If you need me, I’ll be in my room.”
Annie nodded. Ardell’s blood went cold. Aviv was their healer. He didn’t really think Annie would…
His room. It was a weird feeling, but nothing compared to Allyse laying next to him, trembling.
“You’ve never worn a collar.” He kept his voice low, like talking to a child or a wild animal. “Never been Kept.”
Unspoken: How are you scared? How are you, Allyse, afraid of anything short of a dragon?
“We saw what happened to Del. That’s when we formed the Thornes. That’s when we agreed we’d never be Kept. Never be collared.” Her voice was distant. Allyse’s voice was often distant, but this was different somehow. Further away.
Finnegan did the only thing he could think to do. He touched her arm, carefully, and when she didn’t jump, he touched her other arm as well. “I’m going to hug you. And then we are going to lay here and cuddle. Later, if you want, we can decide if we want to have sex.”
She swallowed. It hurt him to watch her throat work like that, like she was struggling with merely breathing. “Yes, yessir.”
He wouldn’t tell her not to call him sir. He understood the idea of turn-about. But he would try to make sure it didn’t stick too roughly in her throat.
He’d never hugged an injured friend as carefully as he hugged Allyse. “And when it’s all over, things will go back to the way they were. And that’s okay, too.”
“You don’t have to lie, you know. I know it’s not what you wanted.”
“Not what I wanted and not what I want are two different things.”
Ty was a miserable Kept.
Jamian had really expected no less, but it was still frustrating. “Ty. Tya. What are you sulking about now?”
“I’m not sulking. It’s just, I want to go out.”
“And I told you no. I’ve only got twenty-four hours. I want to enjoy it while I have it.”
“But I want to go out.“
Across the living room, Nikki and Shiva looked up. There was a moment of unspoken communication between them, and then Shiva snorted.
“Ty, you’re a lousy Kept. Suck it up. It’s not like none of us ever wanted to go out and couldn’t. Ever wanted to do something at all and couldn’t. Even Jamian.”
“I was never this mean.”
They coughed. All of them. “Yes you were.” It was Nikki who said it, but they all meant it. “You definitely were a lot more mean than Jame’s being.”
“Totally,” Shiva agreed. Magnolia was watching the whole thing wordlessly, possibly glad that she didn’t have a Kept this year. They hadn’t seen Phelen and Manira all day.
“If you want my advice, and I’m sure you don’t,” Nikki kept on, “Take all your clothes off, go into the bedroom, and do your best to show Jamian exactly what kind of good Kept you can be.”
“Is that what you want me to do?” Shiva’s purr was probably supposed to be private, but Jamian could hear it clearly. He tried not to blush.
“I and to feel your claws.” Nikki’s response couldn’t even pretend it was meant to be for her ears only.
“Take my clothes off first…?”
“Tya-mia, everyone here has seen you naked. Show us what a good Keptie you can be.” Shiva sounded so very different. Drugged, almost. It was a little unnerving.
Not just for Jamian, it seemed. Ty sighed, and then, much to Jamian’s surprise, stripped off his clothing, right down to skin. “If my master likes…” His voice had gone thick and husky, although his eyes were still so very bratty, amused at all of it, “I will be in his bedroom, waiting.”
“Your master would like that quite a bit. Good boy.”
They hadn’t seen Vlad and ‘Lisha all day, but occasionally they could hear them from the bedroom. Vlad, it seemed, was taking the opportunity for some payback.
Conrad, on the other hand… Kai wasn’t sure what he was doing.
That wasn’t accurate. What he was doing was petting her. He had her sitting on the floor between his legs, her head pillowed on his thigh, while they watched Christmas movies with the rest of the Crew. He was stroking her hair and her shoulders, and every so often the rest of her torso, and murmuring the occasional praise in a low whisper only she could hear.
“Is this…” It was hard to form coherent thoughts. Everything was awash with pleasure, thick with warm, happy feelings. “Is this what you want?”
“Right now, beautiful Kaia, I’m doing exactly what I want.” His hand circled her neck for a moment, before going back to petting her. It felt delicious.
“But…” She gave up for a few minutes, until his hand stilled and she could try for words again. “But is it what you want from me?”
Taro said something on the other side of the room, but Kai couldn’t quite hear it. It didn’t quite seem to matter, anyway.
Conrad didn’t answer for a while, although his fingers kept running through her hair and stroking her neck. “Yeah. Not every day – I don’t think I could function – but yeah. Yeah, I’d like that once in a while.”
His hand caught in her hair and he gave it a little tug. “On the other hand, I like this, too.”
She swallowed a gasp. “Merry… Merry Christmas.”
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