by Ozawa Ayaka (小澤綾香)
The training room’s high, vaulted ceilings were covered in black scorch marks that could have only been put there by a strong pyrokinetic’s going crazy; Daniel craned his neck back to trace the pattern of burns over the beams with his eyes, and was glad he wouldn’t go out in a firestorm.
No, he was a telekinetic; he’d bring the building down on his head. And maybe his new trainer had picked this room for just that reason.
“So, they say she didn’t go critical, but she got real close,” someone said, behind him. Daniel’s heartbeat sped up, pulse pounding in his throat. He monitored it closely–he wasn’t thirteen, to lose control of his power and smash things to dust at sudden movements glimpsed from the corner of his eye.
Daniel turned around to get a good look at him. “You must be Laurent,” he said. “Laurent Elmhurst?”
The man nodded. Tall, brown-haired, blue-eyed. The note said he was a clairaudient, and, sure enough, he had a scar running down the side of his neck from having clawed at his ears one too many times. “Marceau,” he corrected. “And you must be Daniel”–he smiled, none of Daniel’s teachers or trainers ever smiled–“Daniel Westbury?”
None of his teachers ever mocked his tone, either, for that matter. Daniel took two deep breaths to slow down his racing heart. And then a third. “Yes, sir. Is the Westbury School treating you well?”
In one fluid movement, Laurent shrugged off his grey uniform jacket and tossed it to the side. Daniel didn’t let it touch the floor, but caught it in mid-air with his mind and made it fold itself, turned so he could read the steel rank pips on the collar. Nothing unusual about them, just the Elmhurst School’s plow insignia, though they were a bit new.
“Nice city, nicer than up north,” Laurent said. “But don’t worry about me. Now.” He held out his hands. “If I told you to break my fingers, how would you do it?”
Laurent’s eyes followed the motion of his coat to the stool in the corner of the room, and then his gaze snapped right back onto Daniel. “Hypothetically.” The smile widened, just a fraction, just barely enough for Daniel to notice. “Tell me, how old are you?”
“Twenty, sir.” He could unloose the tiny bones from their sockets one by one and crush them into powder.
“And no work assignment yet.”
Daniel kept his face calm and Westbury blank. (He could make Laurent ball his hands so hard into fists so hard he broke his own hands.) “I’ve only been twenty for a month.”
“You’re a six on the scale?”
It–it had to be a test. “Closer to seven, but not quite there, sir.”
“Good, you’ve got your story straight.” Laurent cracked his knuckles, one at a time. “But we both know what you are, so you don’t need to impress me, not really–only you want to, or you wouldn’t have folded my jacket for me so nicely.”
We both know what you are. Class eight telekinetic, so powerful that he should have caved his own skull in years and years ago, and taken out half of the South City while he was at it. But he was here, and whole, and hiding his abilities in a school full of people like him–the dangerous psychics, the ones who had been taken from their parents as children, for their own good–was a small price to pay. “Yes,” he said, without thinking, just to fill the pause.
“You don’t need to impress me. Understand?” And then Laurent’s face broke into a grin again, and Daniel’s knees nearly gave out in relief, but he kept his back ramrod straight. “Now,” he said. “Tell me how you’d break my fingers.”
“It wouldn’t be difficult,” Daniel said, and listed off the two ways he’d thought of, then added, “or–or I could make the bones explode from the inside.”
Laurent nodded, just once. “What would you do if I told you to do it?”
“It would be rude,” Daniel blurted out, horribly aware of how young and plaintive he sounded, “you’re a trainer, and I just met you.”
“Oh,” Laurent said, and laughed, a short, sharp yelp of a laugh. It … wasn’t startling, but it didn’t fit him, Daniel thought. “I should assign you some exercises.”
But he was a clairaudient, Daniel realized, and it was a passive power; why would he be here teaching someone with an offensive ability? He had no way of protecting himself. It wasn’t for him to question, though. “If I can say–”
Daniel felt his eyebrows rise, independent of his wanting them to. The crumbling of control that presaged the loss, or maybe he was reading too much into his own reactions. “I… I think that my current regimen is more than challenging enough, sir, I just need to be tested and regulated.” He took his fourth deep breath of the last fifteen minutes. “I’m sorry.”
That grin again. “Don’t be, it’s cute.”
He couldn’t keep from flushing, not for all the Westbury-taught self-control in the world. “I’m sorry?”
Telepaths in general gave Laurent hives, and Sascha Westbury, the headmistress of the Westbury school, was powerful enough to turn Laurent’s brains into river mud, rip all his secrets out of his head, and lay them out in front of her like the pieces of a broken watch. She was small and fine-boned, her auburn hair threaded through with grey, her uniform immaculate, and rumor said they’d had to invent new levels of classified to bury her record of service when she became a teacher.
“How did you find Daniel?” she asked. And her voice had the same flat quality all Westbury graduates developed, or affected.
“Compliant.” A fly trapped in the window buzzed. He heard the wave of telepathic power Sascha sent out to crush its tiny brain. “He’s a good kid, I think.”
“A good boy, and a living one,” said Sascha, looking him up and down, and didn’t offer him a chair. “You know why you’re assigned to him?”
“To figure out why,” he said.
The office was all blonde wood and white and the exact shade of dark green that lined trainers’ uniforms. “We’ve had at least ten offers from various … agencies for him. Hostiles, Border, Enforcement, private security firms.”
“And you’re not sending him out into the world until you know he won’t collapse under pressure?”
“And we need your expertise, Investigator Marceau.”
Had he been in his own school, he would have slumped and sighed. He couldn’t afford that moment of vulnerability here, where it would have served him well at Elmhurst. “I’m just a trainer, now.”
“You didn’t take on your school’s name.” She steepled her fingers on the desk before her. “Why?”
“I–” He paused. He could question the relevance of this line of discussion, they loved things like that down here, but it was easier to simply answer. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, ma’am. My sister and I made a promise that we both would go back to our family name.”
“You have a sister.”
“Daniel,” he said, “we’re talking about Daniel.”
“No.” She looked him up and down, and his hearing picked up the slide of skin on skin that was her crossing and uncrossing her legs under her great desk. “You’re going to be under my roof for at least two months,” she said, “I want to know you.”
But he wanted to see how far he could get. “Do you have a lot of guests?”
“Guests, yes. Politicians, heads of sorcerous clans–we had Leila Farjani under our roof once,” Sascha said, naming the young matriarch of that sorcerous clan, one of the two that owned most of the city. Laurent was from far, far up north, but Leila Farjani was a celebrity. “They say she’s sleeping with one of our graduates.”
If she was trying to impress him, it had worked. “That’s a catch. For you guys, I mean.”
Sascha’s mouth twisted up at the corner, as close as, he suspected, she would ever get to a smile. “Tell me about your sister, Marceau.”
A calculated release of private school information, designed to seem spontaneous, to work its way around your defenses, Laurent’s inner investigator whispered to him. “My twin, Helene,” he said, “Helene Marceau. She works in Border Division, stationed by the Great River. She’s a five, a hydrokinetic, secondary psychometry.” Keeping them safe from the monsters up north.
“Your twin,” she said, flicking her braid over her shoulder, to reveal the shield insigna of the Westbury School on her breast. Ense et aratro, to serve with shield and plow, was Academic Division’s motto. Elmhurst was the plow, and Laurent touched the stylized one on his own uniform, just out of habit. “And you don’t have the same abilities?”
“It was an anomaly. Yes.” He took on her clipped tone, to disguise his irritation at the question even as he knew he revealed it.
“Clairaudient, class six, no secondary,” he said.
“And you still have contacts in the Hostiles Division?”
“Of course I do.” More than he liked to think about. The line between the monsters Hostiles hunted and the ones it kept on the payroll got a little fuzzy, sometimes.
“Use them, Marceau,” she said, standing up. “I want answers.”
And she couldn’t get them herself, because things were very delicate in Daniel’s head, she’d explained to him. Otherwise, she would have simply strapped him down and figured it out herself — years ago. He left the building and took a deep whiff of the evening air. It was heavy and damp–all the precogs said there was a hurricane coming, and soon, and the city’s weather sorcerers said the same, someone had told Laurent in the lounge in the teacher’s quarters.
They didn’t want to ask for help outside the school, lest the people offering Daniel jobs–in exchange for paying in cash, or political clout–think they might be getting damaged goods instead of a fully-functional class-eight telekinetic, the strongest in a century.
Laurent walked across the grounds, back to the building that housed the teachers. The empty quarters he’d been assigned were meant for four, with a shared common room and kitchen and two small separate bathrooms. But he was alone in it, and his boots echoed off the tiled floor of the kitchen. The bookshelves were full, and the paintings on the wall were of the way he’d been told young telepaths saw the mind, in splashes of color and light for emotion and thought, before they learned to tease out the information they wanted in orderly patterns.
A dead woman’s apartment. All of the former occupants were dead. He could feel it in his bones. That the administration hadn’t bothered to clean it out before putting him there should have said something, but he couldn’t tell what.
“Well,” he said aloud to himself, voice echoing in the open space. “I guess that’s just how they do it at Westbury.”
He sat down in the armchair, which the most comfortable thing he’d seen in the entire school so far, which wasn’t saying much.
And then he covered his ears, and uncovered them, and he heard.
There were three ants crawling on the floor in the corner. That he could hear their hair-thin legs on the floor meant he’d turned his hearing on too loud, and he listened to the heartbeat of the person in the next apartment over to calibrate it in this new place. A man’s heart, judging from the size.
Laurent moved on. Down, down into the commons, where a group of children sat around a game of mahjong, as quiet and unobtrusive as an unmarked grave. Past that, the headmistress’s office had protections around it that didn’t allow his hearing past it, so he heard over into the buildings around it, listening in on the evening lessons, testing out his flexibility: four at once, on different levels of awareness, and then he rotated between them. Telepathic ethics, upper-level defensive hydrokinesis, a group of murmuring precognitive girls and boys, trying to pull predictions from the ether, and–he had the feeling he wasn’t supposed to hear this–young empaths being taught to weaponize their gifts.
In short: nothing useful. He eased his hearing back down into the normal range. He hadn’t closed his eyes, but he hadn’t blinked, either, and his eyes watered and burned the moment he was aware of them again.
Daniel Westbury sat across from him, head cocked, dark eyes calm and observant. “You left the door unlocked,” he said. His voice was a whisper, a concession to Laurent’s oversensitivity after expanding his senses so far.
“How’d you know where I was staying? You wanted to see me, huh?” Laurent wasn’t smiling, but he shaped his face into a convincing one–a Westbury boy wouldn’t be able to tell, anyway. “See how I’m settling in?” Flirtation, get him to open up–he opened his posture, like he would when he wanted a suspect to think they were in the clear–understand what makes him tick. It wouldn’t be hard; Daniel was pretty, all high cheekbones and dark hair and freckles and a fine, strong jawline.
“I didn’t.” Was that irritation in his voice? “This was my old trainer’s apartment.”
Laurent picked at his ear, then yawned to pop his eardrums. “What happened to her?”
The syllable rang hollow to Laurent’s ears, then his hearing snapped back to human levels, so that he didn’t have to hear the way Daniel’s throat caught, the creak of his bones when he tightened his fist and released it. He could still see it, though. He was trained to see it, and he didn’t like it.
“They wouldn’t have told you,” Daniel said, finally. “It’s against policy.”
“You didn’t come here to warn me,” said Laurent.
“How’d you do it?”
That, he decided, was the end of the pushing he was going to do this evening. ” You’re better now, aren’t you? You won’t hurt me.”
“You remind me–you remind me of the Hostiles recruiter,” Daniel said. He smoothed unseen wrinkles from the legs of his uniform pants. He must have just come from a class, his schoolbag was at his feet, at a perfect right angle to the couch. “The one who comes around to check us out. I’ve talked to her, you sit like she does.”
Laurent’s smile came genuine this time, and he paid attention to its effect on Daniel, the way Daniel’s eyes latched onto his lips, traced the line of his shoulders, then flicked back up to his eyes. “What’s her name?”
And Sascha had said Hostiles first on the list of organizations that had put out offers for Daniel’s services, and the kid was earmarked, if Victoria Westbury–who was on the list of at least the top ten nastiest things South City Hostiles had to throw at the things that went bump in the night–came sniffing around him. “Got a thing for her?” he asked, just to lighten the tone a little. “Got a little crush?” He reached out to ruffle Daniel’s hair. Daniel stiffened under his touch, like he’d just been slapped, but didn’t protest. “I used to work for the division, too, you know. Investigator.” He tapped his ear. “Not a hunter, like your heroine.”
“I know.” Only then did Daniel duck out from under his touch, wrinkling his nose, but, still–no complaint. Laurent wanted to see more of the nose-wrinkling in the future. He’d have to make a thorough study of how to induce it. “I mean, I was told. Before you came.”
“Did your homework on me?”
“I was told. And,” Daniel said, with just an edge of defiance in his voice as he stood up and gathered his schoolbag, “she’s not my heroine.”
He didn’t quite storm out, but it was close enough that it made Laurent want to laugh. Inappropriate reaction, he thought, and when the door closed, he let out a chuckle anyway.
The request for private rooms–a scaled-down version of teachers’ quarters–for Daniel and his quartermate had been granted only six months ago: enough to give them practice living in the real world outside of the Westbury School, but not enough that they felt special. It was only here that he could exercise his abilities to their full extent, this room with its magically reinforced walls, so he couldn’t make them bow out when he woke up from a nightmare, or buckle them in a frustrated lash-out at a calculus problem.
The first thing he did when he got back to his quarters for the mid-day siesta was pick the empty pen holder up from his desk with delicate telekinetic fingers and peel the metal apart, and then tear it into strips like it was paper and make it dance in the air before him in lazy figure-eights. When he got bored, he compacted it into a ball and floated it to the garbage can.
There was homework to be done, sure. He flopped onto his bed and covered his eyes with his hands, to stave off his regularly scheduled headache, and blamed this one on Laurent. He hadn’t been able to pay attention in any of his morning classes; he should have gone over what notes he’d managed to take in between dissecting his conversation from last night.
A knock, at his door. “Daniel,” his quartermate said, in the soft, careful tones of a precognitive.
Lyra didn’t have to ask permission, but he said, “Come in,” anyway, and turned the doorknob for her without moving a muscle.
She sat down on the bed next to him and ran her fingers through his hair. “I saw that you’d need me today,” she said.
“No.” Her secondary was telepathy; he’d probably been radiating the kind of distress Lyra always picked up on like a beacon. “We’ve got all our attention focused on the hurricane. How’s your new trainer?”
Instead of complaining about her touching his hair, he let her–he needed something to get Laurent’s touch off of him, but it was a lukewarm kind of need, an ought rather than a must. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Is he bad?”
“Not bad,” he said, fast. “How are the storm predictions going?”
“Nothing new.” She lay down alongside him, still playing with his hair. “Pain. Levees breaking before the sorcerers can get to the weak points. Children crying out for mothers trapped outside the telekinetic shelters.” South City was hit by hurricanes powerful enough to destroy it nearly every other year, while its people huddled under the bubbles that Daniel and people like him provided. The hurricanes–they weren’t natural, they were crafted by their enemies’ sorcerers, in Tenochtitlan and the islands to the south, to destroy the country’s richest port. They were such a small country–a tiny swath of territory cut out by Europeans from across the ocean, between two continents full of people who hated them–even with all of their psychics, there was nothing much they could do to fight back.
Lyra broke him out of his thoughts. “I think Albireo’s going to get the date and time first.”
“You know that’s what the professionals are for,” he said. “What about Celeste?”
“Celeste’s gone,” Lyra said, and after thirteen years, he knew when she was upset–“She and Stella got work assignments last month. Business forecast contracting.” She pinched the side of his neck. “If I get the date, if I get it right before the professionals, I’ll get noticed. By the right people. It’s going to be nasty, Daniel.”
The right people, like they weren’t going to be assigned together, anyway. Lyra turned twenty in a week, after all. “How bad?”
“Bad!” she said. “Now, let me make you feel better.”
A precognitive with secondary telepathy wasn’t uncommon, but what was uncommon was the strength of her minor gift. He went still when he felt her mental touch, but he let her in–he always let her in–Lyra was no attack telepath, to tear information out of his brain if he didn’t give it up fast enough; no medical telepath, to poke around where he didn’t want her. She had just enough to coax the worry to the forefront of his mind, then ease it away.
You’re going to be fine, she said, pulling him closer to her on the physical plane, he’s not going to hurt you, look at him, and there she brought up a picture of Laurent’s face, he only wants to help.
I miss Annelien, he said. She’d been his trainer since he was ten, the only one aside from the headmistress allowed to know the truth of Daniel’s abilities. He’d broken her spine in three places.
It wasn’t your fault, said Lyra. He wrapped his arms around her waist and tried to furrow his brow, but she’d gone deeper into his mind, and he couldn’t find the strength to even frown. We’re going to be fine.
They were going to be fine. She was influencing his thoughts, but only ever for the better, and only at great cost to her, taking the guilt on for him: it wasn’t empathic, he didn’t think, and so it wasn’t natural, but Lyra never complained. How do you know?
Because you have me! And he’s a clairaudient–she magnified the image of Laurent to look at the scars, but all Daniel could focus on was the way the fine tendons in his neck stood out–or I’d be saying this out loud.
“We’re going to get assigned together, right,” Daniel said, and managed to open his mouth to yawn. “Don’t put me to sleep.”
“It’s siesta,” Lyra said, “you should rest.” But her wordless apology echoed through his head, and he snapped back to awakeness immediately. “We’re going to go into Hostiles, and you and I–”
“Are going to smite the wicked?” Daniel pinched her side. His head felt clear now, the way it always felt when she was finished with him. He untied her boots with his telekinetic hands and let them fall to the ground. “Unless you want to go into Border? And fight giant plants, and sleep on the ground? I think I do.”
He didn’t have to be careful around Lyra, he could joke with her, he’d known her ever since he could remember. She pinched his side. “Twenty-five minute sleep,” she said, suddenly cold and firm. “I’ll wake us up.” He sighed and nodded, and was out only moments later.
If there was a logical reason Daniel hadn’t broken by now, hadn’t cracked into a living fountain of bonecrushing energy, the answer wouldn’t be in the pages of his file, but it was worth one more shot. Laurent nodded hello to one of his fellow teachers and stepped aside so she could get some coffee, though he didn’t know how she could drink it in the South City heat.
Laurent had seen broken telekinetics. The really powerful ones always tore themselves apart–seven was the highest a person could get before edging into insanity, and even that pushed it.
Quartermate: Lyra Westbury. Precognitive, secondary telepath. They’d been together since they were seven years old, an offensive ability and paired with a passive ability, so the former had to maintain control, and the latter couldn’t retreat into their mind. Lyra was a solid student and a gifted precog, and, yeah, they were both already promised to Hostiles.
They didn’t know what they were in for.
It had been a full week, and two more sessions with Daniel, and the kid was still suspicious and quiet around him. That wouldn’t do.
But–the sense he got from him–was that he was bored. Laurent could make things very interesting.
“How’s your student, Elmhurst?” the teacher next to him asked. He didn’t bother correcting her. “You’re with C6 Daniel, right?”
“That’s me,” he said.
She looked him over and finished off her coffee. “Good kid.”
Laurent snapped his file shut and said, “Good kid,” and left the lounge to walk across the grounds in his spare time. He was acting guest trainer for a few clairaudients whose teachers were out aiding in the search for some skinwalkers that had entered the city a few nights past, the whispers said–he had an hour to kill before he met the younger one, a girl of eleven who never smiled, but turned bright red whenever he told her she’d done a good job.
The Westbury School was laid out along the same lines as Elmhurst, built from the same brick, even, but Westbury wasn’t something to be looked at, not like Laurent’s school was. The smooth stone paths were broader, so there was less grass to be taken care of, and there were only a very few flower beds, and all of them clustered around what, at Elmhurst, would have been the precognitive building.
He listened into it and confirmed that impression while he knelt over to pick a red flower, to disguise the way his eyes went blank.
“Oh,” a girl said, bumping into him–deliberately, it had to have been deliberately. He stood up and offered her the flower, and she took it, but held it loosely in her hand, as though it was a rock. “You’re not from here.”
“I’m a visitor,” said Laurent, looking her over Her eyes were a pale, clear green he’d never seen in someone whose skin was so brown, and her voice was the half-whisper of a precog. She had freckles, too, just like Daniel’s. He pointed to the plow insignia on his coat. “Authorized and everything.”
He held up his hands. “Caught me. What’s your name”–he stopped himself before he called her sweetheart, that just wasn’t done at Westbury–“student?”
“C6 Lyra,” she said, standing at attention. “Precognitive.”
If he’d blinked, he would have missed her look of surprise. “Sir.”
He held out his hand, and she shook it. The skin was scarred, ridged at the meat of her palm. Precog scars, from clenching their hands into fists before they could prevent themselves from losing themselves in their visions. “I’m your quartermate’s new trainer–none of that,” he said, throwing up walls against the way her mind brushed over his. Not quite trying to get in, but close enough to make him uncomfortable–people with strong telepathy were the worst.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She looked through him, rather than at. He didn’t believe her calm for a second.
“All of you are.” Laurent patted her shoulder, and she looked down at his hand. “So well-mannered, I mean. Is this your building?”
Lyra didn’t so much as glance at it. “Yes. I’m taking a walk, my instructor told me to.”
Liar, liar, don’t give unnecessary details. She knew who he was, and she was feeling him out. He slid his hand up to cup the side of her neck and said, “What did you see?”
“There’s going to be a flood,” she said, stiffening palpably under his touch. “I’ve been pushing myself too hard. To get the date.”
“That’s what the professionals are for”–the endearment was appropriate, he decided, just to throw her off-balance–“sweetheart.”
Her face darkened. Only a touch, but it still darkened. “I keep hearing that. And–you’re Laurent Marceau. From Elmhurst.”
“Did you see me coming?”
“He told me about you. We,” she said, “were told.”
There was something heavy in those words, something Laurent knew he shouldn’t meddle with; the bond between quartermates was a powerful thing, when it worked. Daniel and Lyra worked. “Do you want to give me a tour of the grounds?”
“I only have five minutes.”
Convenient, Laurent thought, but didn’t call her on it, and instead stroked the side of her face. She didn’t react to it. “I’ll stop bothering you, then.”
The rustle of her feet in the grass when she walked past him was the sweetest sound he’d heard all day.
He saw Daniel first thing next morning, and decided not to bring Lyra up. He occupied himself lobbing heavy rocks into Daniel’s perfect, spherical shields. Laurent picked a bigger one up and threw it with all his might, and Daniel, with a nod of his head, sent a stone he’d kept stuck in his shields out to meet it. The two stones hit each other and were crushed to dust in mid air. “You’re showing off again,” Laurent said.
“I’m practicing.” Daniel’s gaze was level. “For the hurricane. When debris hits my part of the shield, I want to be able to use it.”
“They don’t teach you that in class.”
“My old trainer provided special instruction, sir.”
And his old trainer was dead. No one would say a word to Laurent how she’d died, no matter how many teachers, male or female, he cajoled and flirted with. “Take a break?” Still, he indulged himself and looked over Daniel’s fine features, the way his long legs crossed in mid-air, the hint of collarbone that peeked from the tee-shirt he wore under his discarded jacket.
“No, I can keep going.”
“What about burn-out?”
“We’ve only been going for an hour.”
“You can hold it that long?” Laurent asked.
Daniel looked at him like he was… not stupid, but just a tiny bit slow, something to be pitied. “In my file, it must say that the longest I’ve maintained a shield is ten hours, sir,” he said, tone chilly. “Yes, I can hold it.”
Picking up another rock, Laurent threw with all his might, and it caught Daniel off-guard enough to make him grunt and knock it aside with a sudden burst of power. “Don’t be a little shit,” said Laurent, casting about on the ground for another one. A half-dozen suitable rocks lifted themselves out of the soil and presented themselves to him. And now Daniel was showing right off. “No, that’s not it, don’t be arrogant. You’re powerful, not invulnerable.” He threw the rocks at the shield, one after another, quick enough that Daniel could only catch three out of the six. Daniel’s face went pink with the effort it had taken to keep track of that many projectiles.
“Do you think a pyrokinetic’s going to care if you can crush them into a tiny ball when they’re burning you to cinders? You’re a strong kid,” he said, “but you wouldn’t last two seconds in the ring against, say, Victoria Westbury.”
“That’s not a fair comparison,” Daniel said. “Victoria Westbury is a decorated officer of the Corps,” but Laurent could see the hunger for a fight in his eyes. A real fight. That was the problem: Daniel didn’t have any proper challenges. For one long, mad moment, Laurent thought of having his sister summoned from the border to give Daniel a challenge, but it was only nostalgia. Helene wouldn’t come at his beck and call, she loved it up there.
“Anyway,” Laurent said, shaking off his thoughts of Helene, “that’s beside the point, don’t you think? How’s your hand-to-hand?”
If Daniel thought Laurent couldn’t hear his sigh, he was wrong. “It’s more than adequate, I’m told. By the trainers in that area.” There was an edge to his voice that Laurent didn’t care to identify, lest he twist it to what he wanted to hear.
Behave, Laurent thought; he was here for mind training, and mind training only, he didn’t need an excuse to touch Daniel. Somewhere, though, his twin was laughing at him and calling him pathetic and telling him to go for it, there were only eight years between them, in six months at most he’d be a trainee in whatever division snapped him up. And fair game.
“So, what kind of person do you want to fight?” he said, instead.
“Hydrokinetic, pyrokinetic, sorceress? I know a couple of people who could take you on, easy. Want someone who can throw lightning? Another telekinetic? Or maybe a combat precog”–wrong move, wrong move, Daniel’s face went from glowing excitement to a complete stillness that would have made his headmistress jealous. “No combat precogs,” said Laurent, “none of those, that’s stupid.” In truth, combat precogs, who could predict where your fist was going to land, had nothing to do with pure precognitives, but he should have known better. “But, really–anyone you want.”
“I–I think…” He bit at his lower lip. Laurent liked the sight of that. “A pyrokinetic, sir.”
Holding himself back from making a comment about hero worship, Laurent nodded. “Next week,” he said. “You know you’re going to lose?”
“We’ll see about that, sir,” Daniel said, with a secret smile.
“We’re meeting an old friend of mine. Her name’s Hsu.” Laurent stopped to kick a rock into the deserted early-morning street. “Alison Hsu, she’s–a doctor, I guess. A scientist.”
Daniel walked a respectful three steps behind, despite Laurent’s efforts to slow down and make them walk side-by-side. “Dr. Alison Hsu. ‘The Star and the Scythe: On the Residual Effects of New Byzantine Sorcery in the Body’s Tissues.'”
“That’s the one!” The city was asleep, Laurent’s voice was too loud on the cobblestoned streets. Westbury School sat in the thin no-man’s land of South City between the two main sorcerous clans’ territories, and so did the Hostiles station. The people who lived here were Corps people, too, and all the houses looked the same–a balm, to Daniel’s eyes.
“Anyway,” said Laurent. “I thought she’d want to meet you.”
Because I’m unnatural, Daniel thought. He was still waiting for the sparring partner Laurent had promised. “Do you have a lot of students? Back at your own school.”
“I have three,” Laurent said, curt and professional all of a sudden, “twelve, seventeen, and eighteen, two clairaudients and a clairvoyant. For advanced control, it’s the same principles, applied differently.”
“What division do you think they’ll go into?”
“Border,” Laurent said, too quickly for Daniel to believe. It could have been a lie, but Elmhurst was the biggest provider of psychics for the front line of defense. Trained to wound, not to kill. Not to start another war, with their neighbors to the north.
The Hostiles station was taller than all of the buildings surrounding it, but it somehow managed to give off the impression of squatness, of a great animal biding its time. Its white stone walls had gone grey a long time ago, with streaks of things that neither time nor rain nor magic could ever erase. “Where does Dr. Hsu work?” he asked, shielding his eyes and looking up at the building. “She would be…”
“Important. An important asset, is what you were going to say.” Laurent pointed down. “We’re going into the basement.”
Everyone knew what went on in the basement of a Hostiles station.
They got their visitor’s badges from the receptionist at the front desk, and from the moment they walked in, something, or someone, was scanning their thoughts for any trace of malicious intent. It wasn’t telepathy, but magic, and Daniel mustered all of his training to keep his mind as blank as possible, lest the power in the building find him wanting, reach in, and turn him into a gibbering husk.
Nothing happened. He didn’t realize how tight he’d been clenching his jaw until Laurent, on the elevator, stroked the line of it with his thumb; Daniel flinched and edged away from him. “Don’t do that,” he said. The cushion of air that held the elevator’s cage up started to deflate, slow and sure, to carry them down past the interrogation rooms and black cells.
“I get worried,” Laurent said, “when you’re so quiet.”
“It’s normal,” said Daniel. “I can’t help it, and … and you shouldn’t touch me.”
“Getting all the touch you need from someone else?”
He forced himself to hold Laurent’s gaze, ignore the way his trainer’s mouth twisted in amusement. “We’re quartermates, we anchor each other.”
“Is that all?”
“She’s like my sister.”
Laurent’s eyebrows rose halfway up to his hairline, and he patted Daniel’s shoulder and said nothing else for the rest of the ride.
When they got off of the elevator, the silence was absolute, despite the screams from the floor just above. The cage closed behind them of its own accord and made its way back up, a small breeze from the needle-thin cracks in the air bubble ruffling the hairs at the nape of Laurent’s neck. Daniel took his eyes off of him and looked around the room that spread out before him. Any well-made building had extension spells cast onto it, to fit more into less space, but this was absurd–it was an entire apartment spread out into more space than should have been imaginable, with no walls on anything but what must have been the bathroom. And everything, in shades of blue, from navy to periwinkle to so shades so bright they made Daniel’s eyes hurt.
“Welcome to the lab,” Laurent said, moving his hand to the small of Daniel’s back.
He didn’t protest, this time. “This can’t–” Daniel took a step back; even the ceiling was blue, sky blue, with gold-edged clouds painted on it. “This isn’t a lab.”
“But it is,” said the woman who had just walked into the room. “I am very good at extension magics, young man.”
Despite the surname and the Middle Kingdom looks, her accent was all city. She stood a full head shorter than Laurent when she walked across the apartment to give him a hug, then straightened his jacket like he was her favorite nephew. It made no sense to Daniel’s eyes, and he stood at attention out of reflex, holding his hands in front of him and holding his right wrist with his left hand.
“And this must be Daniel,” Dr. Hsu said, when the two of them stopped murmuring. She was at least fifty, or more–she carried it well, her hair threaded through with enough grey to make her look dignified. He’d always pictured her as younger, based on the way she sounded in her books. “The present you’ve brought me.”
“I’m always thinking of you,” Laurent started, but before he could finish, a boy burst through door Daniel hadn’t noticed, a door that, in all likelihood, hadn’t been there a moment before. He looked as though he was of an age with Daniel, but he could have walked off a runway in Tenochtitlan with that face. “New assistant?” Laurent asked.
“Not exactly,” the boy said. “Doctor, there’s a complication–”
Dr. Hsu put a hand the boy’s arm. “Eric, go back to the red room, keep watching the skinwalker.” Eric nodded flashed the three of them a very detached, very bright smile, then turned on his heels and walked away.
Letting out a measured sigh of relief, Dr. Hsu led them down into the laboratory proper. It was less blue than the apartment had been. “He does the filing.”
Laurent looked around. “Contractor? What’s he in for?”
“Later,” Dr. Hsu said, nodding to Daniel. But Daniel knew what contractors were–criminals who agreed to do the Hostiles’s dirty work, and if they survived their period of indenture–which they rarely did–they were free to go. “How do you like my basement, Mr. Westbury? C6, is it?”
“Yes,” Daniel said, and switched his grip to the attention you displayed before civilians, left wrist in right hand. “That’s it.”
Her lips curved up into a tiny smile. “I want to examine you,” she said. “Do you give consent?”
“Are there forms?”
Laurent snorted from the doorway, leaning up against one of the lintels. “The good doctor is mostly off the record, for the Hostiles. You’re… fodder,” he said. “She just wants to take a look at your brain patterns, you’ll feel some poking, she’s got some kind of project going with psychic brain scans.”
Daniel looked from one of them to the other. He could find no logical reason to refuse. “I give consent.”
“Just lay down on the bed,” Dr. Hsu said, and when he complied she put her smooth, soft hand over his face. He reached his mind down into the cushion to re-arrange the stuffing to be more comfortable, but before he could finish he felt a bolt of pain run down his spine, and let out a strangled yell. “Oh,” she said. “No powers, not down here.”
Laurent pulled up a chair next to the bed, and took Daniel’s free hand. “It’s going to feel like someone’s walking in your brain, with boots on.” Daniel couldn’t turn to look at him, but he could squeeze.
“Ah, saving me some time on the safety speech,” Dr. Hsu said. From the corner of his eye, around her fingers, Daniel saw her pull out a piece of thin paper and set it on a table in front of her, splaying her hand out on it. “This will be invasive, boy.”
By the time it was over, the inside of his skull felt bruised, and it was Laurent who helped him sit up straight, whose hands went to the side of his face, as if to hold his mind in. He needed it. “When’s the image going to be done?” Laurent asked, looking around Daniel. Behind him, Dr. Hsu kicked the table. The impact rattled the bed.
“A few days,” she said. Daniel couldn’t turn around to look at her; Laurent’s hands still held his head steady. “The paper knows the image, it just has to come out.”
“‘Path me when it’s finished? You guys in Hostiles have–”
“I’m not Hostiles,” Dr. Hsu snapped, and turned to the sink in the corner to wash her hands. “You still are.”
Daniel managed to wrench himself out of Laurent’s grip just as Eric walked in, the front of his grey smock spattered with blood. His right arm was also bloodied up to the elbow. Eric held it limp at his side. “Doctor,” he said. There was something troublingly mournful in his tone. “I had to kill it.”
Daniel thought better of asking what he’d had to kill, and how he’d done it. He couldn’t have spoken, anyway. The steady ache in his head turned into a throb, and he held his head before Laurent could reach out to him, though Daniel saw the way he twitched to.
“Change and clean the mess up,” Dr. Hsu said. To Laurent, she added, “He’s a godsend, he’s lasted eight whole months.”
“Berserkergang?” Daniel managed, when Eric disappeared. The way Eric had been looking through them, not at them–there were four true berserkers in the school, Daniel knew the type.
Dr. Hsu glanced over her shoulder at him. “He’s smart,” she said, still to Laurent. “Oh, you brought me a smart one.”
“I’m always thinking of you, doctor,” Laurent said, then stroked her cheek the way he’d stroked Daniel’s jaw on the elevator. Don’t touch her, Daniel thought.
She slapped Laurent’s chest. “I should have dissected you years ago.”
“What,” Daniel said, once they were safely in the elevator on their way back up to the real world, out of the vast bubble that was Dr. Alison Hsu’s realm, “what was that, what is she, I’ve never–I’ve never felt anything like it, sir, it wasn’t right.”
Laurent’s arms went around him as the elevator started its slow, jerky climb, and Daniel found himself settling his head on Laurent’s chest. “There’s a reason they keep her in the basement.” He took a step back, so he was leaning against the elevator cage, and Daniel followed him.
“She meant it, about dissecting you, I could hear it in her voice. Is she–”
“A killer, no. Her ethics get questionable, but she’s never taken apart anyone who isn’t dead. I think.” He huffed out something that might have been a laugh against Daniel’s ear. Shivering, Daniel tried to pull away, but didn’t argue when the circle of Laurent’s arms held him in place. He burrowed into the touch, after the hallway, after the scan.
“What’s the hallway,” Daniel said, trying to go as still as he could, tamping down the panic, lest he start deforming the bars of the cage. Going critical, in a Hostiles station–nothing could be more humiliating. “What was that, in my head.”
Laurent pulled him in closer. “Nahua blood-magic,” he said, “sort of like the stuff that probes your head for bad intentions when you walk in, but a different system. Of magic, I mean. Nasty stuff.”
“But what’s it supposed to do?”
“Scare the fuck out of you,” said Laurent. “Get a picture of the inside of your head. She’s got to get her laughs somehow.”
He tried to pull away from Laurent in earnest. “We’re standing very close.”
“I hadn’t noticed, kid.”
“I’m not a kid.”
“You are.” Before Daniel could react, Laurent turned them around so Daniel was the one pressed against the wall. “And you need a fuckin’ hug, or you’re going to tie the elevator into knots. Trainer knows best, right?”
But it did feel nice, and he felt the animal terror that had wrapped itself around his brain subside. The bars of the cage groaned back into place –he hadn’t realized he was doing it. “Yes.”
“Call me Laurent.”
“Sir, I’m not calling you by your first name.” He felt the laugh as much as he heard it, this time, rumbling out of Laurent’s chest. He stooped, a little, so that the top of his head was tucked under Laurent’s chin. “I’m not joking. It’s inappropriate and familiar.”
Laurent pulled his head back and pressed his lips to Daniel’s forehead. “Like this?”
“This is nothing different from what I do with Lyra,” he said, though his voice broke. It would only take a tiny push with his mind to get Laurent off of him, but something in him hesitated to use it on his trainer. And another thing simply wanted it.
“Is it?” Pressing his lips to the bridge of Daniel’s nose, Laurent’s hands went to either side of Daniel, fingers (and what long fingers, he could never have broken Laurent’s hands) twining with the bars of the cage. “How about that.”
He bumped his forehead against Laurent’s, enjoying the difference in their heights. Daniel wasn’t short–Laurent was just tall, aberrantly tall. A useless kind of tall. “No, Lyra has been known to kiss my nose. It’s a well-documented phenomenon.”
Laurent slid his lips over Daniel’s, just once, and Daniel’s head followed his when he pulled back. “Seen out in the field by scores of researchers, huh.”
“Yes, sir,” he said. “At least seventy.”
“Look, you’re joking,” said Laurent.
“I’m Westbury. I don’t joke.”
“Liar.” There were probably quite a few excellent reasons to not let Laurent kiss him, but in the space between Laurent leaning in that fraction of an inch that separated them and Daniel ducking his head forward to meet him, he misplaced most of them. It was long and slow, Laurent’s tongue working over Daniel’s lower lip, trying to part them; Daniel failed to see the appeal of the act, and shook his head, so Laurent bit him instead. But it was Laurent who broke the kiss, even as Daniel wound his arms around his neck. “Faker,” he said, hand curving over Daniel’s jaw.
“Do that again.”
“You dropped your sir.”
“It’s a word, sir, I can’t physically drop it.” Daniel tried to lean forward for another kiss, but Laurent only let their lips brush before removing himself from Daniel’s easy reach.
“Okay,” Laurent said, thumbing at his nose. “Now you’re just laying it on.”
Daniel had to fight to keep the smile off of his face. “That is entirely possible.”
“Where have you been hiding this?” The elevator ground to a halt before Daniel could try to kiss him again, and they drew apart the instant the doors started to open, facing a lobby full of Hostiles agents, most of whom only spared them half a glance. “God, it’s almost like you have a sense of humor.”
“I joke with my friends,” Daniel muttered, and held onto Laurent’s wrist as they made their way through the crowd. At the very front of it was Victoria Westbury–who was patently not his hero, no, she was Lyra’s, but her enthusiasms were infectious–shouting to make herself heard over the din. When the room hushed and stilled, Laurent paused and didn’t let Daniel pull him any farther.
Victoria scanned over the assembled agents, eyes sharp as flint. In her grey-and-navy, she was the city’s image of the Hostiles Division, the perfect agent. “You all know why I called you here,” she said, and a few people held their heads as the spell over the lobby caught stray negative thoughts. Daniel kept his mind blank, but for the parts that were listening to Victoria’s speech. “Xochitl, stop thinking about sex at the telepaths, it’s rude.” A collective snicker, and some of the tension went out of the room. Next to him, Laurent’s expression mirrored Victoria’s –but with a hunger that the way Victoria looked over the crowed wholly lacked.
He held Laurent’s hand.
“Ten skinwalkers from up north made it down into the city unnoticed,” Victoria went on. “We found them. The thirty of you represent the best of the station.”
“Full of it,” a woman muttered, behind them.
“I heard that, Stern. We can always make it twenty-nine.” No laughter in Victoria’s voice. No laughter in the room, not at the mention of skinwalkers.
Daniel tried tugging them toward the door, but now their movement would be noticed, and Laurent stayed rooted to the spot.
“We are going to cut their hearts out,” Victoria said. “We are going to do it before the hurricane hits. Your team assignments and search grids are on your magipads; two psychics to one sorcerer, you’ve all worked together. If Dr. Hsu has, in any way, bribed you for flesh samples”–a few scattered, guilty coughs–“I would advise you return her money. And, all of you.” She pressed her hand to her heart. “Come back alive.”
The agents dispersed to find their assigned partners, and finally, he and Laurent were free to make their way out of the station. “You miss it,” said Daniel, when they were far enough away. He disentangled his hand from Laurent’s, gently, and didn’t dare look at Laurent’s face. “Are you really a trainer?”
“I quit the Hostiles six months ago,” Laurent said, then stopped to lean against a wall. Daniel stood facing him, watching the agents file out of the building, this group teleporting away, that group walking through a portal. “I told you. Investigator, not hunter.”
Daniel waited for him to go on. Taking a deep breath, Laurent combed his hands through his hair. “Non omnis moriar, the motto is. Not all of me will die. You’re a part of a whole, in Hostiles; if you fall, if one limb is broken, another one will hold it up–if one limb is cut off, another can just as easily take its place.” He looked up, and Daniel could see how empty the smile was. “Anyway,” Laurent went on, “eight years was enough. They let me transfer back to Elmhurst, for whatever reason, and here we are.”
“Here we are,” Daniel echoed.
“Feel that in the air?” Laurent looked up, and raised a finger to touch his earlobe. “If I try hard enough, I can hear the wind on the ocean from the storm coming.”
“Is it bad?”
“You know it’s going to be bad,” said Laurent. “Hey, I’ve got a fight lined up for you.”
“Of course, sir.”
The moment had passed. Daniel didn’t take Laurent’s hand again, but they walked closer than they ought to have.
Daniel, Lyra’s voice in his head said, as soon as he was back on the grounds, the moment he was in range.
He broke away from Laurent, ignored whatever he said, and rushed back to the student quarters to find her huddled on the floor. Her irises were shattered, sending out rays and bubbles of grey-green into the white, and black into the green, and he held her face and made her look him in the eyes, as much as it hurt to see her like this. “What is it,” he said, and felt the stabbing claw of a haphazard telepathic reach scrape up his spine, into his skull, where she anchored herself in his mind. It was too much like Dr. Hsu’s scan to be comfortable. For Lyra, he could endure it. “What happened?”
“I got the date, Daniel,” she said. Her eyes restored themselves to their normal composition, then broke again. “Date and time and approach. I got three dates, over the next decade. Need to get them verified.”
Lyra was tiny, but though he could pick her up with his arms or with his mind and it would be no more effort than lifting a kitten, he was loath to move her. He sat next to her, arm around her shoulders, shutting his eyes and feeling along the line between their minds–weakly, because the connection was all of her making–in an effort to soothe her mind, pull her out of the visions.
The door opened. Daniel tightened his arm around Lyra, and she whined at the tactile stimulation, but it was only Laurent. “She’s stuck,” he said, and it was an effort to speak and stay in Lyra’s mind at the same time. “It’s the visions.”
“Let me,” Laurent said.
“Don’t be stupid.” Crossing the room, Laurent crouched in front of them, touching a strand of Lyra’s fine, dark hair. “My sister’s first partner was a precog.” He waved his hand in front of Lyra’s face, and what was left of her pupils followed the motion. “See, she’s going to be fine,” he said. “Let me pick her up?”
Daniel squeezed her tight, once, and then Laurent grabbed her under her arms and lifted her right off of the floor. Lyra clung to his front with a groan, and Laurent winked at Daniel over her shoulder, adjusting his grip so that he held onto the back of her legs. “See, she’s not made of glass.”
“I never said she was made of glass,” Daniel muttered, and stroked a soothing telepathic hand up Lyra’s back at the stab of her panic he felt in his head. “Don’t hold her so tight, and not so close to her–her behind, sir.”
It’s fine, Lyra said, in his head. He’s very handsome. Daniel nodded, but couldn’t isolate the thread of jealousy he felt in time to keep from sending it over their link. And the only response he got to sending the images and memories of being kissed–Lyra’s laughter in his head, Lyra, winking at him over Laurent’s shoulder. “It was just a suggestion.”
It was another five days before Dr. Hsu’s sending scraped at his windows with talons made of paper clips. At midnight. Laurent rolled out of bed and willed his erection to go away, even though he knew that Hsu couldn’t see him through the tiny bird made of scraps of papers and envelopes. (Unless it could, in which case he hoped she enjoyed the show.) “Come to my lab tomorrow at ten,” the thing said. Its beak had been meticulously colored yellow with a highlighter; its voice was hollow and tinny, but unmistakably Hsu.
“In the morning?” Laurent said.
“No,” Hsu said, “at night, Marceau, yes, in the morning.”
Daniel kissed his cheek when Laurent cut their morning training session short. Laurent smirked all the way down the elevator ride.
“So, your telekinetic,” Dr. Hsu said, “and don’t mind Eric, he doesn’t care about your existence. He doesn’t even care about mine, except as someone to teach him things. Isn’t that right?” Eric didn’t look up from his color-coding. “See, harmless. Anyway, your telekinetic–the way you do things in the schools goes, individual telepathic sweeps every three or four months, make sure everything’s in order, in and out–yes?”
“It’s every four months at Elmhurst, three months at Westbury.” Laurent couldn’t help but steal a glance over at Eric. He didn’t look like he was listening.
“Right, right. So. Do you see it?” She held up an incomprehensible mage-drawing of the inside of Daniel’s head.
He made a show of squinting, then shrugged and said, “Indulge me.”
“He gets them twice a week. Twice a week at least,” she said, flapping the drawing, the crow’s feet around her eyes getting deeper the wider her grin got. “A normal class eight anything, telekinetic, pyrokinetic, precognitive, anything at all–you’re going to find dead spots, burnt places, lesions in the brain–from the power, it eats them alive from the inside out, a person’s not supposed to hold that much in a stable loop–you wouldn’t know about stable power loops from ley lines, Marceau, you can’t use magic. Anyway. Your student’s brain. Your subject, even.” She brandished the thin paper again. “Cleaner than the floors when young Mr. Nezahualcoyotl here is done with them.”
“It’s true, I keep the floors clean,” Eric chimed in, almost sing-song.
Laurent picked apart his tone before he could think about it: seven words, detached, icy undercurrent to the words, but mostly detached. Disinterested. He’d heard that a few times, in the black cells. “Doc, I thought you said he wasn’t listening.”
“Oh, she was lying to you, but I don’t care about your telekinetic, so it’s fine.” Eric looked to Dr. Hsu. “Should I go check on the green room and leave you alone?”
“The white room,” said Dr. Hsu, “remember the triple bolt when you come out.”
“I never forget.”
“It’s true,” she said, when Eric was gone. “He doesn’t forget a thing and he’s unbreakable; I told you he’s a godsend. And nice to look at, which is more than I can say for the rest of his kind.”
Dr. Hsu went through research assistants like cheap handkerchiefs, and still, the line was out the door to study under her. And Eric Nezahualcoyotl was nice to look at, but not half as nice as–“Daniel Westbury,” Laurent said.
“That one, yes.” Her voice went far away. “Cleaner than the headwaters of the Great River. I’ve never seen anything like it. Do you think I could–”
“What do I tell Sascha Westbury?”
“Nothing, yet,” Dr. Hsu said, then held the drawing out at arm’s length to study it. “Stall for me, Marceau?”
“Of course,” he said. He didn’t ask why.
He had an invitation to Daniel and Lyra’s quarters that evening, for dinner. It was tiny–only a quarter of the size of a teacher’s place, and he felt too big for it, like he was taking their space over.
“Lyra,” he said, because she hadn’t taken her eyes off of him all evening, “how are you, after the other day?”
“She got–” Daniel started, but Lyra talked over him.
“I got my dates verified,” she said. “Everyone was very impressed.”
“And you got in trouble for trying to foresee without proper supervision,” said Daniel, taking a bite of his chicken. It was moist, yes, but bland. The entire school was allergic to seasoning. “Reprimanded.”
“Thank you for taking care of me.” Lyra kicked Daniel under the table, and he winced, but didn’t kick back. Laurent wasn’t sure he could, even if he’d been angry. “How did you know I was in trouble?”
“I can listen to ten conversations in ten different directions; listening in to what you two were saying wasn’t anything,” he said. “If Daniel rushed off like that, it could only mean his quartermate was in trouble.” He wanted to ask how Daniel had known–Lyra’s stated telepathic range wasn’t long enough to have reached him. Another thing to investigate. He caught himself enjoying this, the thrill of the hunt, gathering information to make a neat, tidy report. Still an investigator, he thought. Like Hsu had said. He couldn’t outrun it.
Lyra nodded. “I’m going to bed,” she said, and reached over to flick some hair away from Daniel’s forehead, but she looked at Laurent as she did it. Looking right through him. He’d never seen a precog’s eyes do what Lyra’s did when she saw the future–not that badly, at least. When Daniel opened his mouth to protest, she added, “Don’t you dare worry, I’m still tired, that’s all.”
“It’s my job,” Daniel muttered, watching her go.
“Like brother and sister, huh,” Laurent said.
“Better than that.”
The conviction in his voice gave Laurent pause. “Do you have any siblings? In your biological family.” Any psychics stronger than fives on the scale were remanded into the State’s custody as early as possible, for their own good. Children weren’t even named until they’d been tested for potential, to see whether they could use magic, tap into the ley lines in the ground, or whether they were trapped, burning themselves for power.
“Lyra has a younger sister.” Daniel shrugged. “I never asked about my own…”
“Family,” Laurent said. “I’ve got a twin. She’s a lot like Lyra, you know.” Helene was nothing like Lyra, but the way Daniel’s dark eyes lit up made the lie worth it.
Making the dishes float away from the table, into the sink, Daniel asked, “Does she look like you?”
A fork dipped in mid-air, but didn’t fall to the ground. “I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
“I mean, it’s not uncommon to think about. Twins. Not that I’d go for it, but I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it.” Laurent leaned back in his chair and watched the bright spots of red bloom on Daniel’s cheeks. “What, you haven’t been thinking about the elevator?”
“I was distraught,” Daniel said, “it–you were just giving me what I needed. At that moment. So I wouldn’t hurt you.”
This was not even a little bit necessary, to get the investigation done. Laurent didn’t care. “And Lyra went to bed so conveniently, and left us all alone.” He reached out and listened while he spoke–she did seem to be sleeping, heart rate slowed and breathing steady. Good. The walls were thin as paper. “How about that.”
Daniel drew himself up. “I liked kissing you.” His knuckles were white; his tone, determined. “I want to do it again.”
“Then come here.” The chair pulled itself out from behind Daniel, then pushed itself back in, and he walked around the table to stand before Laurent, shifting from foot to foot. “Was I your first kiss?” Laurent asked, pushing his own chair back far enough to pull Daniel down so that he was straddling his lap. “Did I take your innocence, is that it?”
“No,” Daniel said. He hesitated, then put his hands on Laurent’s shoulder. “This is a bad idea.”
“Yep.” Laurent didn’t kiss him yet, but nipped at the side of his neck, and drew back fast enough to see the look on his face. “Boy or girl?”
Shifting so that their bodies were closer–but still awkward, and Laurent would enjoy making him loosen up–Daniel pressed his “Boy, then girl. They were quartermates. They … said I was pretty, and took turns with me.”
“You are,” Laurent said, and put a hand on the small of Daniel’s back, sliding it under his shirt to touch skin there. “Pretty.”
“I’m aware, sir.” There it was, the vein of arrogance he tried to mask. “I was fifteen, they were nineteen.”
“So you do go for the older ones.”
He tried to kiss Laurent, but Laurent put a finger on his lips before he could do it, then felt the solid touch of Daniel’s power on the back of his head, pushing him forward. “They go for me, if I’m not mistaken.”
“He rejected you,” Lyra said, the next morning, while he did up the clasp of her bra. Daniel saw her ribs jutting out sharp beneath her skin, and made a mental note to make her finish more meals. She was built small, but not this small.
Nonetheless, Daniel rested his head on her chin, wrapping his arms around her tiny waist. “I told you about watching.”
“He wouldn’t let you touch him where you wanted to touch him.” She swayed from side to side, and he followed her motion; she’d had a rough week, and she needed the stimulation to keep her mind focused on the physical plane. It was what they did. “Do you think you’ll win your fight today?”
Laurent had refused to tell him who or what he’d lined up to challenge Daniel. “I’ll have a shot.”
“You’ll beat her, if you let me help.”
“It’s a her.”
Humming, low-pitched and tuneless, Lyra walked them over to the full-length mirror that Daniel smuggled into her room for her. “Let me help?”
“You’re not always going to be there,” he said, “or in range.”
Her pale eyes met his. “You’ll let me help you when the hurricane comes.” Not a question, but not an order, either. He was free to reject the offer.
“Only if I need it.” He could feel that she wasn’t ready for him to let go yet, and he pressed his cheek to her hair. “I’ll reach out for you.”
“I’ll keep you anchored,” she said, even more quiet than normal. “It’s going to be bad, I’ll give you everything I’ve got, Daniel.” She paused, then said, “Oh!”
He knew, in the way he knew things about Lyra, that this was going to be a prediction about Laurent, and she turned around in his arms, and backed away–her eyes were only a little out of phase, her irises swallowing the black of her pupils entirely. She wasn’t seeing very far into the future. “What is it?” he asked, anyway.
He held out his arms for her to hold onto his wrists, and then she shook her head hard, and her eyes were their normal composition again. “When you try to kiss him today, he won’t protest.”
“When you do, can I watch?” Lyra’s opened her arms, and for the first time in a very long time, he hesitated before holding her. “I won’t make a sound in your head.”
Daniel pinched the back of her neck, and she yelped and squirmed. “You’ll watch no matter what I say. We’re going to be late for class.”
She drew back and held him at arm’s length. “This one is important,” she said, when they left their quarters. “Can I?”
“Can you what?”
“By foreseeing your actions and telling you what they’ll be, I’ve ensured you’ll take them.” Lyra waved at one of her classmates, Madeline, a tall, willowy, dark-skinned girl whose enhanced strength made her the only other student Daniel truly trusted around Lyra, to keep her safe. (He was sure Lyra was sleeping with her.) “I removed your agency. I’m … not good, at this kind of small-scale precognition. You could get hurt. Tell me if you don’t want me to do it again.”
He put his arms around her frail shoulders as they left the building, out into the fierce sunlight. “Use your best judgment,” he said. “You’d never hurt me.”
It wouldn’t do to think of last night, not in the same room as the headmistress. He’d stopped the proceedings before they could get too far: partly to tease, and partly because he wasn’t sure Daniel was ready for it–
–just like he wasn’t ready for this meeting, to discuss his progress. Lying to someone who could just pull the answers from your head was always nerve-wracking, and for once in his life–the only time in his life–Laurent wished he was Westbury-trained, so that he could stare Sascha Westbury down without flinching, without giving a thing away.
It was Lyra. Lyra kept Daniel from going critical, and Laurent had to figure out how, before he told Sascha. Keeping the information back was pride as much as it was a desire to do good work. “I took him to Dr. Alison Hsu,” he said. “Of the Hostiles.”
“Yes, I know who she is,” Sascha said. If Laurent had blinked, he would have missed the flash of amusement in her eyes. “And?”
“Dr. Hsu scanned his brain.”
Her gaze pinned him to the chair. “The results were inconclusive, she’s going over them again. What’s my time-frame, again?” He had three more months before Daniel was given a posting, but it was better for Sascha to think of him as a forgetful Elmhurst boy.
Sascha said, “Two months,” and Laurent had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from protesting. “In two months–you understand, Mr. Marceau, that we’ve had quite a few offers for Daniel’s quartermate? Quite a few very nice offers,” she said. “She goes where Daniel goes; they’re a highly effective team. We just need to be sure he won’t go–”
Oh.“Insane, ma’am. Is that it?” The pieces fell into place: going critical implied a single burst of power released from a psychic breaking down, followed by persistent catatonia, which was hardly anything to worry about, the school couldn’t be blamed if Daniel was defective like that; insanity was something else entirely for one of their kind, and something far, far worse.
In the anteroom, Sascha’s secretary was shuffling papers, and it sounded like it was right next to his ear. Laurent reined in his hearing, trying not to scowl. Thankfully, Sascha herself didn’t seem to notice, or if she did, it was beneath mention. “You have an idea of the situation.”
“I would like to have been briefed about it earlier.”
“Need to know, Laurent Elmhurst.”
He didn’t rise to the bait. “To minimize the chances of my letting something slip to the boy”–the boy, like he didn’t care–“and his panicking.”
“The last time he panicked,” Sascha said, “he killed his trainer. He crushed her spine to gravel. You’re on loan, Elmhurst, I can’t afford to send you home in a pretty pot.”
“Ma’am.” Laurent stood up.
“I didn’t give you permission to leave.”
He said, “Ma’am,” once more, then sat back down. “What else can I do for you?”
“What’s your impression of Lyra Westbury?” she asked, fingers playing over each other.
“Harmless,” Laurent said. “She and Daniel made dinner for me last night, she’s sweet. I think, anyway.”
Sascha nodded. “Very good, Marceau,” she said. Now that he’d pleased her, he got his name back. And there was nothing he could do about it. “Dismissed.”
He checked his timepiece the moment he was free of Sascha’s overwhelming telepathic presence–five minutes late for his lesson with Daniel, and he’d tracked down a pyrokinetic willing to go head-to-head with a student: Iliane Elmhurst, five on the scale, Enforcement Division. She’d been two years behind Laurent at school. She wasn’t as powerful a psychic as Daniel, but she made up for it in experience–and deviousness.
When he got to the training room, the two of them were already fighting. Iliane’s fire covered Daniel’s shield in a blaze of red and orange, and she took a moment to look up at Laurent and grin. “Hey, old guy, your kid’s a disappointment.”
“I can hear you!” Daniel shouted over the roar of fire, angrier than Laurent had ever heard him, and his shields expanded out a solid three feet. It wasn’t enough to drive Iliane back.
“Kid, you can stop a raging elephant,” she said. “You’re going to help hold back a hurricane in a month. Congrats. When are you going to give me a fight?”
Laurent leaned back against the wall. He considered calling in another trainer to pull them apart, if this got lethal. He decided against it, when Daniel’s shield collapsed, sending a ball of fire around him on all sides–only he came out of it unscathed, his power clinging to him in a thin filmy layer that Laurent could barely see; and he swung out with a telekinetic fist that Iliane only barely blocked with a wall of flame.
“Better?” Daniel took a few steps back from her, circling to the left.
As she tracked him with her eyes, Iliane’s hands ignited, and the flame traveled up her arms, lighting her face in its eerie glow. There was something about a strong pyrokinetic’s flame that wasn’t quite right on the eyes, something regular about it that natural fire didn’t have. “Hit me,” she said, “we’ll see.”
But Daniel couldn’t hit her, but by the time they were finished, they were both sweating and exhausted. Laurent handed Iliane a towel, and dried the sweat off of Daniel’s face himself. Iliane wasn’t paying enough attention to raise an eyebrow, or pretended not to.
“Next time,” he said, “don’t start until I get here. Both of you.” Daniel opened his mouth, and Laurent cut in, “Don’t point fingers.”
Iliane rolled her eyes and tossed the towel back at Laurent; Daniel caught it in mid-air and folded it the way he’d folded Laurent’s uniform, that first day. “I’ll fight him again, if you want,” she said, with a grin that made Laurent’s eyes glad–he hadn’t seen a real smile in a month, save on Daniel’s face. “That was fun.”
“Fun,” Daniel said.
She made the hem of his pants catch fire. “Yeah, fun.” Looking up at Laurent, she swept her short, ash-blonde hair away from her face. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had fun.”
Daniel stared at her like she was an animal in the zoo. “It was combat training. I was venting my energy.” The fire went out as fast as it caught, and Laurent had to wonder who’d killed it.
“Where’d you find this one, Laur?” Iliane asked, clucking her tongue. “What’s he going into?”
“Hostiles.” Daniel picked the folded towel out of mid-air and set it down on the stool. “That’s where I want to go, ma’am.”
Snorting, she picked up her jacket, with its indigo piping, and slung it over her shoulder. “We’d love you in Enforcement, kiddo.”
The moment the door shut behind her, Daniel slumped, like something upstairs had just cut his strings, and Laurent threw an arm around his waist to catch him. “Hey,” Laurent said, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Daniel groaned, face against Laurent’s chest. Laurent felt it vibrate through him. “That was… difficult, sir. She’s very strong.”
“Not as strong as you, though.”
“I want to sit,” Daniel said. Laurent lowered him to the ground and stretched his legs out. “I’m–I’ve got raw power, she’s got training. She’s killed things, I can see it in her.”
Funny wording for a telekinetic, but Laurent ignored it. “You did good,” he said. “Iliane was the top pyro in her class when I graduated.”
“Could she beat Victoria?”
Laurent tried to turn his laugh into a cough. It did not go as planned. The smooth skin between Daniel’s eyes wrinkled in confusion, and when Laurent gave into the urge to thumb at it, Daniel closed his eyes entirely and leaned into Laurent’s touch. “What?” Daniel asked. “What’s funny?”
“You,” Laurent said. “Your thing about Victoria Westbury. It’s always going to be funny.”
“I don’t see why.”
“I bet you go through all the papers to see what she’s been up to.”
He put his arm around Daniel’s shoulder, and Daniel said, “It’s Lyra’s thing. I just humor her.”
“So both of you have a crush.”
“Just her!” Opening his eyes, he pressed his lips to Laurent’s, chaste and careful.
Laurent wrapped a hand around the nape of Daniel’s neck, keeping him from pulling back too far. “What if I don’t believe you?”
“My word is unimpeachable, sir. You’ll have to have faith in me,” Daniel said, and it was so prim that Laurent had to give into his baser urges and kiss him back, pressing him into the hard stone floor and planting a hand next to his head.
“Prove it,” Laurent said. He knelt so that he was over Daniel, one leg between Daniel’s thighs–just a little shift, and he could be pressing against Daniel’s cock, through his pants. The thought made Laurent’s pulse race in his neck. This was no quick kiss stolen after a lesson, and Daniel stared up at him, transfixed.
No invisible hands pushed Laurent off, nor did any corporeal hands. It was Daniel who shifted down to press himself against Laurent’s thigh, gaze still unblinking and curious. “Oh,” he murmured, doing it again. “We should stop. Like you said last night.”
“You want to?” Laurent undid the first button of his uniform jacket.
“Well, I assume you’re listening for any signs of … intruders,” Daniel said, propping himself on his elbows to pull off his shirt, “and I’m twenty, and therefore capable of legal consent. I can’t think of any reason to abstain.” Laurent heard none of it, focused as he was on the sight of Daniel’s pale skin; he’d pictured Daniel being less muscular, but when had Westbury produced anything less than an ideal physical specimen?
“So we’re being logical, here,” Laurent said.
Nodding, Daniel lay back down and didn’t quite stifle his gasp when Laurent curved his hand over the front of his erection. “I find you objectively attractive,” he said, but the gleam in his eye belied his calm tone. “I think you ought to kiss me again.”
Two teachers passed by the room, and then a group of students, but the room was booked; Laurent kept an ear on their conversations even as he ignored Daniel’s request, rubbed harder at him, was rewarded by a gasp that made him turn all of his attention to what he had in front of him. “How about this, anyone ever done this to you before?”
“Not … technically. Not precisely.” He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands; they were clenched into fists at his side. “I try not to get into situations where my control might be compromised. Kissing is not one of them.”
I can’t afford to send you home in a pretty pot.
Laurent swore under his breath and tore himself away. “You’re right,” he said, pushing down at the idiot want welling up inside him. “We’re stopping.”
“That was apparent.” Daniel’s tone was level, but what Laurent saw in his eyes was disappointment, as well as a spark of something more–rebellious–defiant–and when Daniel palmed at himself through his pants, replacing Laurent’s touch with his own, Laurent had to turn away to keep from getting right back down there and finishing what he started.
“Tell Lyra I said hello,” Laurent said.
And then Laurent shut down his hearing entirely, to drown out the beating of Daniel’s heart, and his own.
“I was holding my own portion of the shield when I was eleven,” Daniel said, to break the silence. It had been a month since the training room, a month since he and Laurent had had any real conversation. The central courtyard of the school was the only quiet place on the grounds, with the hundreds and hundreds of people that had filtered in over the last few hours for protection from the coming storm. “I’ve done this four times since.”
Laurent was already soaking wet, the cheap waterproofing charm on his coat having worn thin hours ago. Daniel didn’t offer to cover him, the way the other two student telekinetics in the courtyard kept their trainers dry. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
He reached out for Lyra and found her with Madeline, and therefore safe. “My first time was when I was seven.”
“I’m your trainer, I worry.”
“You’re a temporary measure,” said Daniel, “a stopgap, until I get my assignment. You’ve been here for two months.”
“Are we doing this now?” Laurent brushed a lock of wet hair away from his forehead, then added, “A hurricane’s about to shit all over us and we’re doing this now.”
He forced his tone to remain level, overaware of the other ten people in the courtyard. “Are we doing what now, exactly?”
“Talking about the training room,” said Laurent. “You, me.”
“Teacher-student relations are inappropriate and unethical.”
A window opened above them before Laurent could respond, and the two Isenberg clan sorceresses in charge of bleeding off the fury of the storm in this part of the city called out in eerie unison, “Town Hall dome up, ten minutes until we start.”
The Town Hall telekinetic dome sheltered thousands; the Westbury dome, half-manned by students, was only a fraction of the size. Still more people hid in the network of tunnels under South City, and even more took refuge under the smaller shields set up all over, the ones that it maybe took a dozen people to hold up.
“I shouldn’t have done it,” Laurent said, and before Daniel could cut off his approach he put his hands on Daniel’s shoulders, whispering into his ear. “Left you like that.”
“This is hardly…”
No one was staring, at least. “I should’ve at least gotten you off.”
“Sir,” Daniel managed. Laurent gave him a hug that would have been warm and friendly, had he not passed his hand over Daniel’s ass. “Sir, this is really neither the time nor the place to be unprofessional, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“What.” Breath, hot against his ear. “I’m giving you friendly advice before you take on a job that might kill you,” Laurent said, “what’s wrong with that.”
Because Daniel was the anchor. He was an eight, and in a few years he’d be strong enough to maintain it on his own. To his horror, Lyra tuned into his thoughts; he shoved her away frantically with his mind. “I need to be clear-headed for this.”
“You’ve been agitated and unfocused ever since I–” Laurent paused and let him go, held him at arm’s length, searching his face. “When you get your work assignment, we should take care of our unprofessional business.”
He hadn’t known he’d be so relieved by those words until he heard them, and he nodded and glanced around to make sure no one was paying attention. Another trainer was holding her trembling student, and the two adult telekinetics who’d teleported in from up north flirted with each other. “I think I’d like that,” Daniel said. “Being unprofessional.”
And then the sorceresses called out again, and it was time to start.
It wasn’t difficult, at first. Daniel got the sign in his head to start from the young Isenberg sorceress who was inside the building. After that, it was a simple matter of raising his umbrella shield up, up into the air, and not flinching when the other four psychics hooked up to him, and then four more onto each of them, and on down, over the part of the city they were assigned to protect, while the city’s sorcerers and sorceresses bled off the fury of the storm.
None of them asked why he–just a six, of no particular talent–was in the anchor of the dome. He caught Laurent’s eye before closing his own.
It wasn’t difficult at all. His awareness spread out through the growing network of shield, and he only barely registered that the rain had entirely stopped falling, that all sound was muted. His personal shields never did that, but the rest of the psychics on the grounds were weaker than him.
Don’t be a little shit, Laurent’s voice said in his head. So he didn’t, but he still ignored the brush of Lyra’s mind against his own; he could handle this.
“How you doing, anchorboy?” one of the adult telekinetics across the courtyard said.
He’d known the man’s name, at some point. “I’m fine,” said Daniel, continuing to let his awareness trickle through the net. “I think I can bolster–”
“Don’t,” Laurent said, and Daniel cracked an eye open to see one of the trainers nod in agreement, pursing her thin lips.
Then he’d just have to do it without their approval. “I won’t, sir.” He was more than powerful enough. He recognized the color of one of his juniors, in charge of a portion for the very first time, and spent some of himself there, checking the integrity of his own part even as a roof, torn off a house somewhere, shook the entire shield.
One of the student telekinetics fell to his knees at the impact, and his trainer rushed to help him up. But Daniel didn’t see it, not really; he left the girl he’d helped hold up and put his strength into the parts of the shield that had been hit; he knew how horribly their heads must have been aching, and it was the least he could to, to give them a moment’s respite.
His power was almost limitless, after all. He would put himself to good use, even if everyone in the courtyard was determined to under-utilize him, treat him as just a tentpole.
Laurent’s warm touch, on his elbow. “Holding up?” Grunting, Daniel cracked opened one eye and forced his attention away from the damaged part of the net.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m fine.”
“Two hours to go, Miss Isenberg says.”
“–how long has it been?” He shook his head hard. Ten minutes, at most, he told himself. Maybe twenty. He felt stick in his stomach, but he couldn’t fail, not now.
“Get him a chair,” Laurent said to someone over Daniel’s shoulder, then added, “Hour and a half. You’re doing great, the headmistress says she’s never seen such a strong anchor.”
Because she hadn’t. Daniel’s stomach churned again, and Laurent’s arm around his waist held him up until someone guided him down onto a stool. “Good.”
“Get cocky. I’m not. I’m not.” He withdrew into himself, then, making a slow circle around the perimeter, he threw his strength into a wave of force outside the shield to knock a tree aside entirely, before it could hurt any of the weaker telekinetics there. His anchor point shook, but only he noticed–as he was the only one who noticed how his whole body jerked, holding back a retch.
Lyra’s mind brushed against his once more, and this time he let in just a tiny thread of her strength, just enough to soothe the knot in his abdomen. She tried to give him more, but he couldn’t ask that of her, and he shoved the rest of her away before she could work her way into his mind.
She could have just pushed. She didn’t. Daniel was grateful, even as he sensed the wave of petulance she sent at him, tinged with worry. On the physical plane, Laurent held his head cradled against his chest, cheek pressed into the buttons there, and Daniel didn’t have the strength to open his mouth and protest, or enough focus to spare to push him away with a telekinetic shrug–and he understood, then, why Lyra needed to be anchored after visions. Behind Daniel’s eyes, the individual hues of the fifty separate shields whorled into one mass that he had to make sense of, here nudging a bit of power to strengthen a connection, there reaching out to turn debris into dust before it could hit.
And then it was over, he heard in his head that it was over, he felt the slow wave of shields splintering back to their owners, and he slammed back into his body and slid sideways off of the stool. He still had enough presence of mind to catch himself before he hit the ground. That would have been undignified. His head was a cacophony of white noise, but he still had his dignity.
And above it all, Laurent’s voice shouting, hoarse and tight, “Get Lyra!”
“The precog?” the trainer said.
“Yeah, his quartermate, get his quartermate,” said Laurent, backing out of the crater Daniel’s unconscious mind was making in the muddy ground. Daniel himself floated a few inches off the ground, head twisted at a sick angle, staring into nothing. “I told you not to overreach,” he said, fully aware that Daniel couldn’t hear a word he was saying.
The trainer nodded to her student, who had been observing the exercise, and the girl teleported off. Laurent had to tear his eyes off of Daniel long enough to meet Sascha Westbury’s gaze as she strode across the courtyard.
“You did this on purpose,” he said, once she was in earshot. The depression in the ground was still spreading, slow and sure. “You knew he wasn’t mature enough to handle the entire shield.”
Sascha stood next to him, arms crossed over her chest. “He made it the whole storm without breaking until now,” she said, “I call that a success, don’t you?”
“You didn’t tell him not to bolster. That’s what caused this, didn’t it?”
“Quite possibly. It’s less violent than I thought it would be.”
Laurent had to remind himself of brains and river mud and most powerful telepath south of the Capital to stop himself from grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. Instead, he balled his hands up into fists and looked at Daniel, flopped in mid-air as he was. There was an excellent chance that the wave of force creeping along the ground would crush all the bones in his feet and ankles if he tried to get close; the rest of the people in the courtyard had already fled to the safety of a building.
And then the girl who had run for Lyra teleported back into the courtyard, and back out again, leaving Lyra looking very tiny and alone and scared, especially when she saw Daniel. “An interesting choice, bringing his quartermate. I think,” Sascha said, “that since we’re all together, now would be an excellent time to share your findings, Mr. Marceau.”
“It’s Lyra,” he said, “she’s the one who’s kept him from going critical, it’s her telepathy, they’ve got some kind of bond going, are you happy?”
“Yes,” she said. “Quite. I’m sure she can handle him, now.”
“You’re not sending help?”
“It’s not worth the risk. One class six telekinetic going critical versus the minds of the three telepaths it would take to keep him from sliding?” Sascha looked him and Lyra over, like she was daring them to question the class six in that statement–something put in for the people listening in, Laurent felt the prickle on the back of his neck meant nosy fellow clairaudients. “Hardly worth it. Good luck.”
Lyra stared outright at the two of them, but mostly, she looked at Daniel. Sascha left the courtyard, and it was as though the raindrops actively avoided her; no wetness spattered the shoulders of her faded gray jacket. Despite the lingering warmth in the air, Laurent shivered, and walked to Lyra to put an arm around her shoulder. “Can you get to him?” he asked. She didn’t flinch away.
The rain didn’t fall on Lyra, either. Daniel must have still been in there, protecting her. It was heartening, but Laurent couldn’t help wonder why he didn’t warrant an umbrella.
“I’ve been trying this whole time,” she said, as though around tears. Her face was still blank as a slate. “He wouldn’t let me in when he, when he overextended himself, it was like he put up a brick wall, he’s never done this before. I can always get in.”
Laurent didn’t want to think about that, so he turned his attention to Daniel’s form. She shook her head hard and brushed some hair away from her face, and when she looked up at him, her eyes were as splintered as they were during her visions. Only a massive release of power did that, and she was only a secondary telepath, but that was the very least of his concerns. She was the least of his concerns. “Is there anything I can do?”
Hugging herself tight, Lyra trembled once. “He’s so closed. Hold my hand and open your mind.”
“Your walls aren’t hard to break, you won’t be useful to me if I do”–so she could have broken them the first time she’d tried, still the least of his concerns–“but he cares about you, and he cares about me, and I think we can both pull him out of it, don’t you?”
When she held out her hand, he took it, and if his routine telepathic scan was bad, letting Lyra Westbury into his mind was worse. His teeth hurt and his temples throbbed when she picked through his memories, and when he closed his eyes he could see the bright line that connected her and Daniel, and the images she sent along it–Laurent pushed against the wall with Daniel’s hands sliding down his chest, a kiss stolen when a few other students weren’t looking–weren’t anything he’d ever wanted her to see, but through her, he could feel Daniel’s mind opening. Curling up around the edges, like old paint. Lyra took the chance to slide her way under it, and with a shudder that Laurent felt as much as sensed, Daniel let her in.
Daniel fell to the ground the moment Laurent tore himself away from the link. The circle of cracked ground stopped moving out toward them, and it was Lyra who ran to him to fall to her knees and pull his head onto her lap, regardless of the mud. Laurent followed her, more slowly, and it was him Daniel saw when his eyes opened.
“Stupid,” Lyra sobbed, voice cracking, face still as blank as it had been the whole time, “you’re stupid.”
“Now you know how I feel every time you do this,” said Daniel. He reached up to stroke her face, but he didn’t quite make it, hand falling back down to his side.
Then Daniel’s eyes rolled back into his head, and Laurent cleared his throat, and Lyra looked over at him, he said, “Will you let me carry him?”
“Yes,” she said, and he understood what it must have meant to her.
He’d taken Daniel to his quarters, with Lyra following close behind–he hadn’t questioned that, she had every right to be there–and they’d made it without being bothered by the throngs of people that exited the school’s buildings. Sascha had been waiting for them at the top of the stairs, and had seen Daniel breathing in Laurent’s arms, and had nodded and let the three of them pass without comment.
What he did with his student was his business.
Laurent took the first shower. He needed it, if he was going to think clearly. When he got out, he considered wrapping a towel around his waist, and then remembered that Lyra was waiting for him. And she was–waiting. He could feel it. Whatever she’d done to pull Daniel out from under, whatever she’d done to him, it had connected the two of them by a hair-thin thread, through which he could sense Daniel’s burning presence, too, half masked by the cold, sharp edges of Lyra’s mind.
That part wasn’t so bad. Daniel was still alive and well in there. He pulled on a pair of clean pants and went to the bedroom, where Lyra sat on the bed, sitting next to Daniel’s sleeping form, exactly where he’d left her. The bed was high up enough that her feet barely skimmed the floor.
“Explain it,” he said, pushing his irritation, his agitation, down the line at her.
Lyra rubbed her temples and yawned. “Oh. That. It’s only a temporary measure, I think. A stopgap. Maybe it will dissolve. Do you want it to, sir?”
He couldn’t tell if she was consciously echoing Daniel’s words from before, and he didn’t want to know. “Does it go both ways?”
She shrugged, and said, again, “Do you want it to?” Laurent couldn’t feel any emotion coming off of her end, and wondered whether there was any, or whether she was just exceptionally good at masking it. “You can feel Daniel, after all. And he says that he can feel you. Do you know what your mind feels like to us?”
There was still water in his ears; he stuck a pinky in and worked it around. Lyra grimaced when he examined the earwax under his nail, and Laurent filed that bit of knowledge away for future use. “Tell me.”
“Soft rain,” Lyra said, shutting her eyes. “Oh, it’s nothing like me or Daniel.”
“I see.” And if the bond never broke–he would address that later.
“I like you,” Lyra said, running a lazy hand through Daniel’s hair.
Laurent knew a threat when he heard one. “And if you didn’t?”
She smiled, and her right eye snapped back to normal. “You make him happy, sir. Or you will.” She tapped her left eye, which was still in shards of green and grey. “You’re what he’ll need.”
“This is you giving me permission, huh.” He shut the door behind him and leaned against it. “What if you didn’t like me?”
“Oh,” Lyra said softly, and looked down at Daniel, posture shifting so that she nearly crouched over him. “Heavy telepathic suggestions, I suppose. Implanted in Daniel’s mind, linked to small pain triggers. Memory-tampering, if I had to. I have to take care of him, he’s so delicate. But I do like you, sir, so it’s not a problem.”
Things only a highly trained telepath should be able to do. “Perhaps,” Laurent said, “you ought to elect into an ethics class.”
“I have.” She stroked Daniel’s hair again, winding a strand around her finger, or trying to. “I got a lot of ideas.”
“I could report you for saying things like that.”
“And then the headmistress will take me away from him–she’d have me mind-burned, I imagine; she’d do it herself, she’s the only one who could. And he’ll break down in a week. Two, at the outmost. I’ve run the scenarios.” Lyra tapped her left eye again, then blinked hard and wiped a tear away with the back of her tiny hand. “The left one always hurts. Every time. When he breaks down, do you want me to tell you what will happen?”
He kept silent. She went on: “First, he starts forgetting things. His own name, the day of the week. Then, the balance and coordination goes, and you can’t catch him every time. And then his words start slurring, and–did you know that powerful precognitives go blind, eventually? I’m not that strong.”
No, he thought, no, she was strong, and that was why her secondary telepathy was more developed than it should have been, it made sense to put the most powerful telekinetic in fifty years with the best precog, Laurent would place her at class eight or nine, any less wouldn’t be enough to anchor Daniel, and Daniel would be too dangerous a quartermate for anything less. And they were both sane. Largely sane.
“But you are,” was all he said. He sat down on the bed next to her, well within what would have been Daniel’s zone of comfort, but Lyra wasn’t Daniel. Her fingers trailed down the side of Daniel’s neck, and she looked up at him, questioning. “You’re that strong, aren’t you.”
“Very good, sir!” Hopping up off of the bed, Lyra bent over to kiss the bridge of his nose; Laurent let her, because to her, he was nothing more than an extension of Daniel, he could see it in her eyes, hear it in her tone. “Don’t tell my Daniel. He’s never figured it out, he’d worry so much about me.”
“And–Lyra?” he managed, before she got to the door. She looked over her shoulder and cocked her head, her eyes already starting to break up again. “Stay out of trouble.”
“You, too,” she said.
“So, Lyra scares the shit out of me,” Laurent said, the minute Daniel opened his eyes. “I thought you should know.”
It took Daniel a full minute to process his words. He felt like a building had fallen down on his head, and that was even with Lyra actively bearing the brunt of his headache, dulling the pain for him. He tried to reach out to her, to tell her to stop it, that he could handle it, but she wasn’t listening.
She wasn’t listening. He was completely alone in his head. If he kissed Laurent, no one would be watching, so he did, forcing himself to sit up. Laurent’s eyes closed, but he pushed Daniel away and said, “Good morning to you, too.”
Daniel fell back down onto the bed. Laurent’s bed. And there were pillow lines, on the side of Laurent’s face.
“You stayed in bed with me,” Daniel said.
“Wasn’t going to sleep on the couch.” Laurent stretched and yawned, and Daniel heard the crack in his neck. “I hate sleeping on couches. Can you walk?”
“I can feel my legs.”
“Can you shower without help?”
He was filthy. He could feel the mud in his hair; he pulled all of it out and sent it into the trash can. The effort made his head throb even harder than before. “I can–I can hold myself up if I stumble, I’m not completely burnt-out,” said Daniel. And he’d just reach out to Lyra and her bottomless reserve if he felt the need; he wouldn’t shut her out again, not in this state.
Laurent came up behind and pressed the palms of his hands into Daniel’s temples, just as he had in Dr. Hsu’s office. Keeping him from flying apart. Daniel appreciated it on a level deeper than he’d thought himself capable. “Go get yourself cleaned up.” Laurent’s mouth wasn’t even an inch away from his ear, and Daniel shivered. “I’ll be waiting.”
The carpet was soft under his bare feet when he rushed to the bathroom to get away from him. He stripped off what was left of his uniform and rushed into the shower, and while he stood under the hot water, he felt the mental knock and let Lyra in.
Don’t scare me like that, she said, fuzzy in his head. Also, open your eyes and look at our link, there’s a nice surprise there.
He did, and, hovering on the psychic plane just above Lyra’s head, there was a small thread connecting her to a mind that could only be Laurent’s–he didn’t know how he knew that–and when she saw that he’d seen, the sound of her laughter jolted Daniel back into his own mind. Can you cut it?
He asked me the same thing! He felt her prod around in his head, taking more of his headache, drawing out aches in his joints he hadn’t known were there. I don’t think I want to.
Stop that, he said, when the tension in his shoulders dissolved, you don’t have to do that.
I want you in top physical form, Daniel. Lyra even took on the shaking in his hands. You’ve always taken such good care of me. I’ll go see Madeline, she’s always happy to get me through the pain.
Daniel knew exactly what she meant–on both counts. I’m not going to…
He wants it, she said. You want it, I’ve seen that we’ll have a work assignment before the week is out, we’re adults now, go take it. Then she left him alone in the vault of his mind.
Without turning around, he adjusted the temperature of the water so that it was less than scalding. He tested his shoulders, rolled his neck around. Lyra had taken on all of the physical symptoms of the backlash, just to give him these few selfish hours. She’d pulled him back from the brink–With Laurent, he thought, he never would have come back without Laurent. Even now, he could feel the simple tranquility of the man, filtered through Lyra’s iceberg mind.
He leaned against the wall of the shower and splashed some water in his face, rubbing hard at the skin of his cheeks. A deep breath, and he reached down between his legs, wondering what it would be like to have Laurent’s hand on him. After all, he wouldn’t go through with it, no matter what Lyra said–but the thought was tempting. The flush that suffused his body had very little to do with the hot water.
Maybe, Daniel thought–maybe Laurent would lick his lips when he touched him, and let Daniel’s head rest against his shoulder when his strength gave out. Stroking himself fast and hard and rough, keeping that image in his head, he had enough good sense not to groan, not with a clairaudient in the next room.
His free hand scrabbled for purchase on the wall until he remembered that he was telekinetic, and he didn’t have to touch himself. But he wanted to. When his knees buckled, he held himself up on the jut of the soap dish, and let his head loll back.
But still, he couldn’t come. He was so hard it hurt, and he changed his mental picture to Laurent’s body pressing him into the mattress, grinding up against him the way he’d seen–no, Laurent hearing him and walking into the shower and taking over the task, shoving him into the wall–he heard himself moan and didn’t stop the next sound he made, he was too far gone. When he came, it was with a shout, and at least he had enough power left to stop the fluid before it spattered against the shower wall, to send it straight down the drain.
He’d have to wash himself again. He didn’t care. Instinctively, he checked his head for any signs of Lyra watching, but she’d closed off the link between them on her end–and he was glad of it.
He and Lyra were going to have to have a talk about this.
Picking up the sounds, sure, that had been all him, and it wasn’t like Daniel was any good at stifling himself. Laurent had only been listening for signs of distress, after all. A clairaudient investigator heard a lot of things, most of them worse than a twenty-year-old kid jerking off. But then the images started pouring in, of himself and Daniel in … positions–and it could have only been Lyra plucking them from Daniel’s mind and sending them down the line, which meant she’d seen them, too.
Laurent wasn’t sure what part of that he objected harder to: Lyra seeing what was going on in Daniel’s head when he masturbated, or her passing it along. He tried to block the flow of images, even though he could feel Lyra withdraw, and his brain was generating them all on its own.
He’d just seen the kid almost implode, for fuck’s sake. It was sick, to get a hard-on picturing Daniel splayed out on his white sheets, ankles hooked over Laurent’s shoulders–no. No.
And then Daniel walked out of the bathroom with just a towel wrapped around his waist–“I forgot to take clothes in,” he stammered, before Laurent could get a word out.
His gaze drifted down, down between Laurent’s legs, and–why not–Laurent didn’t lean forward, gave him a nice, clear, unobstructed view of the hard ridge of his cock pressing against his pants.
Daniel’s swallow was audible. “I,” he said, taking a shaky step toward Laurent, “have never done this before.”
“You don’t have to.” But, oh, Laurent wanted him to. And he was a teacher, after all. He knew how to structure a lesson.
“It’s very unprofessional, sir.”
“Take that towel off,” Laurent said, and put the bite of an order into it, something Daniel could understand. Instead of complying, though, Daniel let it slide a few inches down his hips, until it was dangerously low, and anyone else would have done it with a sneaky little smile, but not his Daniel, no–he had his Westbury face on.
It drove Laurent crazy.
Which, he reflected, leaning back into Daniel’s touch and cupping his jaw as they kissed, was probably the point. “Pain in the ass.” Laurent thumbed at Daniel’s nose.
“I’m sorry?” Daniel sounded honestly regretful. “I suppose you’ll have to be prepared”–his face turned red–“to take me. Sir.” Daniel stooped to kiss in one more time, still holding onto the goddamn towel–or keeping it up with his power, that was more likely. Laurent bet that it wouldn’t even budge even if he wanted to try and pull it.
“Oh, yes. Yes, sir,” he said, and went down on his knees.
“You can’t keep calling me sir if you’re going to sleep with me,” he said. “I hope you know that.”
Daniel looked up from working at the buttons on Laurent’s trousers. “I don’t see why not.” The way he bit off the end of the sentence–he was thinking it.
Huffing out a breath, Laurent reached down to help him, body humming with anticipation. “Maybe it’s illegal, would you believe me if I said it was illegal?”
“To call you sir? I do have the highest regard for the law.” Daniel pulled Laurent’s cock out and looked it over, contemplative. Like an inspection, but with a heat in his eyes Laurent had never seen before, not even when they’d kissed. It made him throb with anticipation, the pulse in his cock and the pulse in his neck and ears and wrists pounding in unison when Daniel leaned in, close enough that his breath was a caress–and then he pulled back, sheepish.
“What is it?” Laurent groaned.
“Tell me what to do.”
It was a whisper. Laurent had to fist his hands in the sheets to keep himself from grabbing the back of Daniel’s head and forcing it down there, taking what he wanted, because even burnt-out (but alive, wonderfully alive) Daniel had enough power in him to crush Laurent into a tiny ball, and they didn’t know the boundaries yet.
But rather than take him into his mouth, Daniel frowned just a tiny bit, and a phantom hand wrapped around Laurent’s entire cock, testing and teasing. Laurent yelped and thrust up into it, and Daniel must have been doing something with the heat and the moisture in that little piece of space because it felt exactly like a warm mouth, and Laurent could have gotten off from that alone.
He didn’t want to.
The telekinetic fist dissipated. Laurent found himself panting, petting Daniel’s hair when he ran those pretty lips up and down the shaft of him. “Take me in your mouth,” Laurent said–if Daniel wanted to be told what to do, he was happy to oblige–“Just…”
“Suck on the head?” Daniel said, young and clinical and gut-clenchingly curious all at the same time.
“Sure.” That had not been on the syllabus for the day, but he was flexible. He was all kinds of flexible. Daniel paused, gave him a contemplative lick, and then Laurent wasn’t thinking straight anymore, not with Daniel’s clumsy, jerky attempt to swirl his tongue around. He would have bucked, he would have tried something, but Daniel held his hands down with what had to be a lot of effort on his part. “Watch–watch the teeth,” he said, just to fill the silence.
“Yes,” said Daniel. He looked up from between Laurent’s legs, and Laurent kicked himself for having opened his mouth. “Oh, I should get back to work.”
Laurent nodded, and resolved to not say anything else. But he couldn’t help saying after a few minutes, “Good at that.” He fell back onto his elbows. “Sure you haven’t done it before?”
“Lyra,” said Daniel, lips against his cock, “it’s Lyra, she likes sex. She has it. With people. And she can project it into my head, when she wants, and it’s–like I’m there.” He paused. “It’s inconvenient.”
I’m sure it’s such a hardship for you, he thought, nudging Daniel’s head down to his cock, maybe a little more urgently than was decorous, but he was sure Daniel wouldn’t complain. “Yeah,” he said. “I bet. Does it go both ways?”
If Daniel’s hesitation was a fraction of a second longer than it should have been before he said, “No,” that was a problem for another day, a day where Daniel wasn’t doing his level best to take as much of Laurent in his mouth as he could, no finesse, no technique, and it was embarrassing how fast he came, like he was the teenage boy here.
Daniel pulled off of him with a shocked cough, but he swallowed with the most baffled look on his face. “That was…”
“It usually takes longer,” Laurent said, trying to catch his breath, “I swear.”
“Can we do it again?”
He sat up, just to check if Daniel looked as serious as he sounded, which he did. “Give me an hour.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, sitting on the bed next to him. “I’d forgotten that you were old, sir. I apologize for my enthusias–”
Laurent grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him down, and finally, the towel slipped off. The stupid towel. But then Daniel turned his face into Laurent’s neck with a heavy, exhausted sigh. “Hey,” Laurent said, running a hand through Daniel’s still-damp hair.
“How are you doing?” Which should have been the first question out of his mouth. He would have kicked himself, except for Daniel snuggling in closer, wonderful and warm.
“I’m under control.” There was no mistaking that tremble, though.
“No,” Laurent said, “how are you doing.”
Daniel tried to move off of him, but Laurent held him fast. He bit his lip, then said, “Scared. I’m scared that this will happen again.”
“It was a mistake.”
“I was tearing apart everything my mind touched, I couldn’t stop myself, if you hadn’t brought Lyra, I would have–”
Laurent grabbed his chin and kissed him hard. “You’re going to do good in the world,” he said, in the lull when Daniel looked up at him, dazed. “You’re going to do so much good, and now you know what you did wrong, and you have your power. Your power doesn’t have you.”
Daniel sniffed. “You’ve given that speech before.”
And, okay, it had been a staple of his repertoire for young psychic recruits, back in Hostiles. Smart kid. “Doesn’t make it less true. In fact,” he said, pressing his forehead against Daniel’s, “it’s double true.”
“As you say.”
“Hey.” Laurent stopped Daniel from tucking his chin down again, forced him to look up. “I mean it. You’ve got us,” he said, “and we’ve got you.”
“You’ve got me,” Daniel said. He repeated it, as though to himself, then met Laurent’s eyes with a blinding smile and drifted off to sleep, and Laurent would hold him for as long as he needed it.