For A Time

It was beyond agony, to have to wait. Jet could hardly concentrate through the last of his classes, and when he was finally released, it was all he could do, to not simply run for his room. When he got in, he locked the door immediately, and grabbed up the wastebasket, fishing the letters out and putting them on Kieron’s bed. He slit them open carefully, his heart racing madly, his skin broken out in gooseflesh. He felt almost giddy to pick out the sheets and see Kieron’s lettering. The letters themselves were lighthearted, much as his own had been, speaking of the days’ activities, and people he had seen, though in Kieron’s case, the only people he saw outside of his family were Doctors, and Garrett.

Garrett.

Jet felt a swell of gratitude for the man who had so blatantly lied to the Headmaster, who saved him from himself.

When he went to dinner, he walked right over and sat with Garrett, who was reading through papers as he absently ate something on toast–whatever had been given him at the line. “I wanted to–” he began, struggling to keep the ridiculous grin from his face.

“Stand up,” Garrett said mildly, not looking at him.

“Sir?” Jet said, bright-eyed and still riding high on the joy he felt, knowing he could stay in contact with Kieron.

“The Headmaster knows you’re not on my favorites list, Harrington. You’d do well to finish dinner–somewhere else, go to meditations, and then go directly to your chambers for the night,” Garrett said, still never looking at Jet.

“Y-yes… yes sir,” Jet said, his voice cracking as he stood up, collected his food, and moved a table over, slunk down. He had thought Garrett’s ire wasn’t real, and perhaps that was still true, but it hurt to be chastised in front of others, no matter the reason.

Dinner dragged on, but then it was time to slip off to evening vespers. The dim light in the chapel cast all of the meditating cadets into strange shadow and relief; Jet could barely concentrate, and it made the time pass with agonizing slowness.

When it was over, he hurried back to his room to dive back into the letters, to touch each of them, to breathe in the smell of the paper, the ink, Kieron’s touch.

He took out fresh paper and pen, and began anew, pouring himself into the letter, so carefully restraining anything his father might find, anything anyone might cause trouble for.

When he was done, he pulled all the letters close, reading them over and over and over again, and took them into his bed, falling asleep to the crinkle of their paper whispers.

* * *

Ellison Brody had little reason not to trust his son. For the whole of his life so far, Kieron had been obedient, wanting to please both his mother and father. He worked hard to be the cadet and scholar they so obviously wanted and prepared for, and his only shortcoming was the illness that gripped him seemingly out of nowhere. The only taste of defiance Kieron had ever shown was over the letters, and Ellison had seen the boy submit.

But he also knew what it meant to truly lose something as precious as he feared the Harrington boy might have been, to Kieron, and so now and then, he wondered whether his victory had been complete. His fears were not allayed when next he saw Garrett before the tutoring session, and Garrett spoke up. “Please, forgive me, sir, but I wanted to ask you about Kieron returning to school. I think he might do much better there, finish his recovery more quickly,” he said.

Ellison pursed his lips and wore a look of calm, but crossed his arms over his chest. “He is recovered, Professor. The idea was never to return him to the Academy. Too much distraction,” he said. “Don’t put ideas into my boy’s head, Garrett. He has been through enough, and he has put certain things behind him.”

“I see,” Garrett said, frowning slightly.

“Make sure you do,” Ellison said archly, and gestured for the professor to go on his way.

During tutoring, Kieron was as lackluster as he had been in days, staring dumbly at a page without responding for nearly ten minutes, when Garrett leaned over and tapped the pages. “We are studying calculus. I am sorry if it bores you,” he noted.

Kieron didn’t respond, staring down at the page. He might has well have been sleeping.

Frustrated, Garrett shifted to close his book, saying, “Perhaps I should–”

“I’m sorry,” Kieron said. “I never should have done that.” Something wet dripped to the page.

“Brody?” Garrett wondered, reaching across the table, tilting Kieron’s face up. His fingers came away wet with tears.

Kieron wore shame heavily, and Garrett could see it curling his shoulders like an unwanted mantle. It took Kieron more than a moment to gather enough courage to speak. “Forgive me, Professor. I used you. I knew… I knew that if I told you about the letters, you would say something to my father. I knew he’d force my hand,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to make him angry with you.”

Garrett nodded slowly, a strangely pleasurable comprehension dawning. He couldn’t help but smile as he said, “He made you sent them back. Returned to Sender.” His expression was half-amused, half astonished. He was right. The boy was brilliant.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kieron sighed, confused that Garrett wasn’t furious, but despairing, either way. “It’s been weeks. Jet hates me, or at the very least, I’ve hurt him–”

“Shh,” Garrett said, feeling triumphant in his own right. “Here,” he said, and offered over a book, saying, “Focus on this, instead, yes? I’ll go, I’ll give you some time to rest — maybe you weren’t ready yet. But you read that book, all right, Brody? And you’ll be fine.”

“Yes, sir,” Kieron said, nodding dully.

“I’m not kidding, Brody. Read the damned book,” Garrett said lowly, and then he packed up his things, and left the boy sitting there, looking more than a little stunned at Garrett’s snap.

Once his tutor left, Kieron wandered back up to his room, and threw himself on his bed, still holding the book. After awhile, he opened up the book and rolled his eyes; why would he care about a treatise on war games? How would it make him feel better? He tossed it on the floor, and put his hands to his face, pressing the balls of his hands into the hollows of his eyes. When the treatise hit the floor, however, there was a flutter of paper, and he sat up quickly, suddenly worried he’d ruined a valuable book. Instead, he found an envelope, addressed to him.

His heart thundered as he got up and locked his door quietly, then moved to open the letter, while sitting on his bed. Out fell several pages, in Jet’s hurried hand. Kieron uttered a cry of surprise and delight, and had to carefully quiet himself so that his parents would not ask him what had happened.

His hands trembled as he held the letter, reading it over and over and over again, his heart racing.

Key:

Your letters came all at once, and I had despaired, not realizing your cleverness.
I shall not underestimate you again. Know that I am well, and my only true complaint is the lack of you.
I may have actually meditated during vespers in your absence.
Hoyt Redwell has been expelled.
Are you well?
Please write back, and tell me if you will be returning, and when?

Yours,
Jet

He was so elated, his mother remarked on his vitality at dinner that evening, and Kieron found he could not even be angry with his father, now that he was able to talk to his friend again.

The boys sent letters back and forth through Garrett for days. They still were uncertain in their writing; they spoke of nothing of consequence, fearing retribution if Kieron’s father should find out, though they well knew that even without speaking of Kieron’s visions, the boys being in contact with one another would cause an all-out firestorm of fury.

Kieron excelled in his tutoring, and Jet excelled within the Academy. Kieron had visions, still, his episodic fits coming in small bursts. He knew, usually, when they were coming, and did his best to be away from anyone and everyone, so that he could recover in peace. He wrote of them to Jet, but only in the guise of dreams, and only in small doses — he did not want Jet to worry about how often they happened, at times.

The days rolled by, bringing them further into the dark of winter, closer to term break, for the dark season holidays, and the young men even made plans to be able to visit on the break; their steadings were close enough that a run through the woods would let them see one another, after so long.

All was bliss — at least, for a time.

Life Would Go On, As It Does. As It Must.

Kieron stood at the window and watched his father hand over the bundle to the carrier. The carrier looked at the red writing across the envelopes, and began to argue, for just a moment — this is the right address, and that’s his son’s name, isn’t it? But one briefly stern look from Ellison and the carrier went right on his way. The post looked like it hadn’t been opened; it would be processed and put back. He struggled to keep himself from showing his triumph, his smug satisfaction.

He wanted to rub it in his father’s face — he wanted to jump in front of him and dance, mad with glee. You can’t take this from me; I won’t let you. I will never let you.

That day, there was no tutoring; briefly, Kieron worried that Garrett would not return, but the next night, Garrett showed up, and Ellison sat in the room with them, while Garrett went over tactics, calculus, and history. Nothing untoward was said — the conversation never strayed.

Tutoring went on that way for a solid week, and then Ellison left them to do their work alone. He had things to take care of, and he couldn’t babysit the boy forever, plus… plus it seemed that the earlier conflict had passed in the way he’d hoped it might. It came to an ugly head, but that only served to make his point. He felt a keen sense of despair, thinking of his lonely son, his broken heart, but he knew, still, that it was for the best — that it would work out as it should.

Once the boy’s studies were completed, he would be able to take him on, show him all the ins and outs of the family business, get him used to the needs of it, and how to meet them. Life would go on, as it does. As it must.

A few days later, Kieron found himself sitting on the edge of his desk, glancing off toward the window. The snow outside seemed perpetual; the world had been dimmed, made small and quiet by the heavy blanket that would not stop falling. He attempted to make himself get up and check the for carrier — but once he did, he simply felt worse than before: the man had either come and gone, or there was nothing to deliver.

That night, Kieron stole down to his father’s office once more, and opened the drawer where the letters had been hidden. Nothing new was to be found there. With a heavy heart, he closed the drawer, and went to the liquor cabinet, and poured himself some of his father’s brandy. He drank it down in stiff, choked swallows, and felt his eyes burn, and his throat seize fiercely enough that he had to hold his breath for long moments. When he could breathe again, he looked around, expecting new eyes, expecting things to be clearer, sharper, or perhaps easier. When they were neither, he poured himself more of the brandy, grateful that his father went through at least a decanter a week, more when he had guests over. He downed another glass, and it burned just as violently as the first, but he didn’t have to hold his breath as long.

He thought about a third glass, but knew that if he took it too far, he’d wind up waking up on the floor in a puddle of his own vomit, as he’d seen cadets do, during graduation. He carefully put the glass and bottle back where they belonged, and sat himself at his father’s desk, and took out a sheet of Ellison’s personal stationery, and began to write.

He started with Jet’s name, and then simply stared at the page for a long while, holding the pen, unable to come up with anything that made sense, anything that sounded good enough to follow sending back the dozens of letters Jet had sent him for weeks, considering Jet likely believed that’s all it was.

“This is stupid,” he said aloud to the paper. “I need you.” When it didn’t respond, he made a disgusted face, and put away the pen. He got up, and threw the paper into the dying fire, and watched it flare into brilliance, and then darken into ash.

The next morning, Kieron’s mother kept pestering after his health. “You simply look so pale, my darling. Your eyes are all sunken, and you haven’t eaten anything. Have you gotten a fever?” She fussed and flustered over him, and he could not decide if it was welcome, or wretched — he watched his father with owl eyes, and sank into his mother’s care, preferring the sometimes annoyance of her attentions to the constant low burn of fury he felt every time he heard his father speak.

* * *

“You don’t seem to be paying much attention today, Brody,” Garrett noted.

Kieron didn’t answer, for a long time; he simply stared at the professor, his eyes dulled, dark. “Apologies, professor. I think I might have caught something. I’m feeling under the weather,” Kieron said, and his voice bore the same dullness as his eyes. He kept his gaze on his papers, or glanced toward the window, but not once did he look at Garrett. He had used the professor, had made him believe his father wasn’t trying to keep him from Jet, precisely so the old man would try to destroy the letters, and ultimately force Kieron into some kind of battle of wills… which he purposefully lost.

Which meant he won.

Except Jet wasn’t sending letters anymore, and Garrett was both hurt and cold, distant — he wanted to help, but he no longer wanted Ellison’s ire.

“I’ll leave you with your work, then,” Garrett said, airily enough. “Get some rest and we’ll look again tomorrow.” He got up, quickly packed his things, and headed for the door, leaving Kieron slumped at the table.

As he was leaving the grounds via the unmanned gate, he heard footfalls on the flagstones behind him. He turned to see Kieron in his houseclothes, running up.

The boy’s breath steamed in the cold night, and his bare feet were reddened from the cold and the snow. “Professor,” he said, his voice urgent and low, reaching to try to touch Garrett’s shoulder. “Garrett, please,” he said, and in his voice was something so raw, the older man could not refuse it.

Garrett turned, lips pursed, and said, “You’ll catch your death out here, Brody.”

“Is he all right?” Kieron said, panting, swallowing to soothe his throat from having run from the house in the raw winter air. “Jet. Is he all right, sir? I haven’t… he–” He didn’t seem bothered by the cold; the fire in his eyes, the need to know consumed him. “The letters stopped.”

“As far as I am aware,” Garrett said carefully. “I believe he is fine. I am minding my own business, as I should have before, when it comes to the two of you,” he said, not unkindly. “Your father’s a formidable man.”

“He is,” Kieron said, tension leaving him in a great exhale the instant he heard that Jet was all right. He raked a hand back through his hair and said, painedly, looking to Garrett, “I don’t want to be him.”

Garrett nodded once, and said, “Understood. You should get back inside, either way.” He turned to go, but paused, not yet looking to Kieron, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Kieron had nodded, but didn’t leave, and was watching Garrett, his hands clenching and unclenching. How he wanted to apologize — Garrett was all he had left to tie him back to Jet, and that connection was wearing perilously thin. “Yes, sir,” he finally answered, and when Garrett glanced back, words hesitating behind his teeth, he saw Kieron running back through the boxwood maze, headed for the house, his breath steaming in the cold, under the moon.

This Will Pass

Kieron’s mood improved drastically after finding the letters; though he was wounded beyond belief at his father’s actions, though he was furious beyond words, he showed none of it, and simply soothed himself by reading and re-reading the letters he’d found. He knew Jet had been worried about writing anything that could get either of them in further trouble; he traced over the words and doodles, laughed at the stupid jokes, and felt himself less disconnected than he’d been in weeks.

It felt like a thousand thousand years since the night Hoyt Redwell knocked him unconscious for saying those vicious things about that summer day at the family lakehouse.

“You’ve been improving. Your mood has lifted,” Garrett noticed, one afternoon.

“Recently heard from an old friend,” Kieron said guardedly.

Garrett nodded, quirking a brow. “Ah, you’ve gotten letters, I presume?”

Kieron cleared his throat and worked on carefully resolving a calculus error before he looked up at Garrett and said, “Yes, my father had been …holding them for me.”

Garrett’s expression grew thoughtful, and he said, “There was some speculation, I am certain, that he might not appreciate it. That’s resolved, then?”

“Entirely,” Kieron breezed, then gestured to his proof. “It was a matter of forgetting the sign, as usual,” he said, changing the subject.

“Why so it was,” Garrett said, nodding. He felt awed, pleased for the boy, who would likely be able to come back to the Academy, if his father had finally managed to let go of his worry for the boy and his friends.

* * *

“Good evening, Professor.” Ellison shook the man’s hand, smiling warmly. “How’s my son doing, with his studies?” Kieron stood nearby, grinning easily; he lifted his brows in an expectant expression, proud and hoping to hear enough to brag about.

“He’s doing phenomenally well,” Garrett said, pumping the man’s hand, his cheeks flushed from the cold. “Couldn’t be more proud,” he said, and he let the butler take his overcoat, and stepped from his snowy boots into a set of proffered house slippers, for his stay.

Kieron positively beamed. Maybe his father would relent, after all. Maybe he would see that the episode was only a brief blip, that he was well enough to return to the Academy.

And then Garrett kept talking.

“I think what’s made the biggest difference is you, and how you’ve enabled him to talk to Jet again,” he said.

Kieron’s expression shifted from delight to shock, and then fear. He turned to look toward his father just as his father cocked his head to the side and turned to look at him. “Oh?” said Ellison. Kieron was the only one in the room who knew the shift in Ellison’s tone was dangerous. He looked back to Garrett, hoping the man would meet his eyes, giving a tiny headshake, pleading with everything he had. Shut up, shut up, for the love of everything, shut up!

“The two of them have obviously bonded over their years at the Academy, and it’s not hard for anyone to see they’ve been influential to one another’s success–” Garrett said, looking slightly startled.

Ellison released his hand and swung an arm around to grab his son and march him down the hall, fiercely. “What an interesting thing to hear,” Ellison said, his voice full of forced cheer. “Let’s keep talking — my office, yes?”

Kieron looked over his shoulder at Garrett, his expression panicked, his heart thundering in his chest.

Garrett went after them, worry now plastered over his features. “Sir I–”

“Come along, professor. It’s even warmer in my office. Lovely fireplace. Brandy. I’m sure you can use the table in there to work with Kieron,” Ellison boomed. Ellison shifted his grip on Kieron carefully, turning his face back toward the way they were walking. In a much lower voice, he said, “No, no, boy. The professor can’t help you with this.”

Once they got into the office, Kieron’s father released him, and walked toward his desk. He opened the drawer, and pulled out the two bundles, and set them on the desk in front of Kieron, then wordlessly walked away to the liquor cabinet, where he pulled out a crystal decanter, and poured a glass of brandy with a heavy hand, knocked it back, poured another one, and drained that as well. He cleared his throat as he set the glass back down, and returned to stand near the desk.

“Kieron, my son, when your mother and I first learned of your condition, we were bound and determined to save you. We explored and thought of every opportunity, but until your recent episode at the Academy, not once did it occur to us to send you away,” Ellison said, his jaw working as he looked to the fire.

“I am… beyond grateful, father,” Kieron said, glancing to Garrett. The professor stood there, looking faintly helpless, watching awkardly. “Truly, I know that you’ve done so much for me; I’ll never be able to repay you.”

“If I did things for you merely to be repaid, I’d be a terrible father.” Ellison began to pace, sighing. “Son, I do for you because it is what fathers do. But this last time, your stay in the Academy, the friends you’ve made… In the course of your life, and in dealing with your condition, I have had to make many hard decisions, some of which I’m sure you’ve disagreed with. Some I can look back on, and know I might have done differently, but couldn’t have, at the time, based on what I knew to be true.”

“I understand,” Kieron promised, trying not to be impatient or frantic. “I trust you,” Kieron said, nodding, and it was that statement that turned Ellison’s head. He looked to his son, and his expression was pained and loving, all at once.

“Then trust me now, and forgive me later, for this,” Ellison said, and he picked up the bundles, and tossed one into the fire, letting it flare up and burn fiercely. The envelopes lettered in Kieron’s gentle hand blackened and crisped, fell to ash quickly.

“NO!” Kieron shrieked, throwing himself toward the fireplace. “No, no, Father!” It was only Garrett’s quick movement that caught Kieron; the boy was held firmly in the professor’s grasp. Tears fell, and Kieron dashed them angrily from his eyes, gasping through his panic.

Ellison lifted the other bunch, to throw them in, as well.

Kieron fought against Garrett’s iron grip, but finally sagged, panting. “Father, why?” he begged. “Can’t you at least tell me why?”

Ellison sighed, and the hand that held the letters dropped to his waist. “Kieron, first, you have to understand that the life we live was born on the backs of sacrifice. That it wouldn’t be possible for you to live in luxury if I’d gone off half-cocked and done whatever I wanted, when I was your age. Luckily, I listened to my father, even when I didn’t want to. Even when I thought it would end my world.”

“I don’t understand,” Kieron said, relaxing only a little, his eyes ever going to the bundle in his father’s hand.

“You have a responsibility to this family, son, and it is to keep the line going, keep the business, going, find a beautiful girl and make an honest woman of her. Have children. Get them involved in the family business. Follow in the footsteps of your father, my father, his father — the legacy we’re building is something larger than ourselves,” Ellison said, an almost feverish need on his face. It wasn’t delight — it was something darker than that, something heavier.

“I can… I can do that,” Kieron said. “Sure, it… I’ll make you proud of me,” he promised, his heart in his throat. “Any-anything, Father, just–”

“End it, Kieron,” Ellison said, gruffly.

“He’s a friend! It’s just friendship!” Kieron struggled to keep himself from sounding too frantic.

“It’s a dangerous relationship, too full of fancy. It’s kid stuff. You’re becoming a man, son, and you need to cut away those pieces that will hold you down.”

Kieron’s expression was stunned; he cleared his throat, saying, “End… end it? I don’t–” He looked up at his father, a plea on his face that he couldn’t find the words for, his expression going stricken. Don’t. Don’t make me. Don’t do this. The knowing look on his father’s face, the love and hardness in his eyes didn’t make it any easier, any less horrifying.

“I’ll burn these, and you’ll just hate me, like I hated my father for making the hard choices,” he says. “That Harrington boy is what’s causing your sickness to–”

“Sir–” Garrett began, flushed, looking angry. “You can’t possibly believe–”

Ellison turned a baleful eye on Garrett, and spoke carefully, calmly, through gritted teeth. “One word from me, Garrett, and your tenure will be revoked. You thought the Redwells could be a bone in your throat? Don’t cross me. And don’t you dare do a single thing to drag this out any longer than it ought. Tonight’s session is over. Go back to the Academy. We’ll send for you again tomorrow.” He turned his gaze back to his son, and the expression was a mix of so many things: love, hope, determination. He did not turn away to make sure Garrett exited; he knew the man would.

Kieron pled, watching Garrett go, “I’m not sick, Father. I’m not, I–”

“I love you, Kieron. I do. You are my son, and I love you. But this is for the best. I swear to all I know, this is for the best,” Ellison said. “I don’t want to, but since it’s come to that, I’ll tell you what my father told me: If you have to hate me for awhile to become the man I know you can be, if you have to hate me while I save your life and make sure you can hate me for a good, long time… I’ll do it.”

Kieron grabbed for the stack of envelopes, tears in his eyes, but Ellison held tight. “Don’t–” Kieron begged. “I’ll end it,” he sobbed through gritted teeth, bowing his head. His father sighed heavily as he released the bundle, and Kieron walked to his desk, and sat down. He picked up a pen, and carefully wrote out ‘Return to Sender’ on each and every letter, dashing tears from his eyes as he did so. When he was done, he tied the bundle back up, and thrust them out at his father, saying, “There. It’s done.”

Ellison took the envelopes from his son and nodded. “Good. Good, I know it’s hard, son. I know,” he promised, reaching to embrace him, to kiss his forehead as he had not done in some time. “This will pass.”

Kieron stood silently, leaned into his father, and didn’t ask if he still hated Ellison the first.

Both of the Brody men watched the fire, and felt an echoing burn in their chests.

Ellison wondered if his son would ever forgive him for denying him his only friend.

Kieron wondered if his father would ever forgive him for refusing to be denied.

Reader’s Choice

So you’ve seen all kinds of stuff on here so far, now I’m going to ask you what you feel like reading. Can’t promise I’ll bow to the whimsy of anyone but myself, because the muse might get crazy drunk on RedBull and inspire me to write odes to chevrons and kitchen knives, but I’d be lying if I said I ONLY wrote for myself, so what the hell — why not ask? If you’ve got something not listed above that you want to see done (live pictures of me capturing wild boars, recipes for gluten-free pickled hipster feet) then you should say so in the comments.

He Slept Heavily and Well

“No, no,” Kieron said, sounding knowing, wagging his finger at the people cornering him. “I know what help means,” he said, panting as he balanced up atop the cabinet. “I know what your help is,” he told them, baring his teeth. “Not happening. You don’t understand. I have to talk to Jet. It’s important. Just… just ask my parents, okay?” he said, trying to bargain, holding his hands out as though to show how he was unarmed.

“Let’s be reasonable. I’m not… there’s nothing wrong with me,” he said. “I just have to talk to him.”

“Sorry, kid,” one of the men said. “We’ve got our orders.”

“Fuck your orders!” Kieron cried, panicked. “Jet’s going to die — I saw it! I have to stop it! Just… just call my mom and dad!” he pleaded. “They’ll tell you! They said I could go back to school. I’ve been doing good. I’m not sick. I’m not sick!”

“C’mon down,” the other orderly sighed, sounding resigned. He reached for Kieron’s foot.

Kieron kicked out, snapping his booted foot at the man’s hand and stomping down, pinning it, grinding his heel. He leaned in, getting almost face to face with the man, and shouted, “CALL. THEM. I HAVE. TO GO. BACK!”

“Son of a — !” Shocked, the orderly pulled his wounded hand out from under the boot, swearing furiously. His other hand shot out, reaching up to grab a handful of Kieron’s hair. “Who the hell do you think brought you to us?” the man shouted as he brought Kieron even lower down to face him. “Get your ass down here, cadet. Your parents are signing you over right now.”

Stunned, Kieron turned to look toward the mirror that was a window into the room, and it was all the orderlies needed to get a solid hold on him. “No! I have to go back!” Kieron insisted, his voice raw, his expression frantic. “You have to let me go back!” he shouted, struggling against his captors. “No. No! NO!” he screamed, thrashing, wild-eyed and hooking his fingers into claws to tear at the men who tried to restrain him. He lunged for the window, screaming at the people on the other side. “I hate you! I HATE YOU!” he shrieked, his hair pasted to his face and neck, sweatslick. “You’re killing him!” he accused. “You’re killing him! You have to let me go back!”

The orderlies tightened their grip on him, while a doctor stepped in, and administered a sedative, enough to take down a man three times his size.

Kieron howled in rage, tossing his head, and arched his back as though he could tear himself loose of the very fabric of Here-And-Now…

…and then he slumped, his eyes glassy, and he shook his head, trying to clear it, his words slurring. “Y’can’t, I can’t– Jet,” he said, blinking widely, struggling to stay conscious. “Somebody. Somebody save him,” he said, and finally, he sagged in the grips of the orderlies, who moved to lay him in the bed, and restrain him thoroughly.

Through the windows, his parents watched, and wept, holding to one another. The very thing they’d feared had come to pass — their son was lost to them.

“We’ll provide him the very best care,” the man in the white coat explained, turning them away from the scene, once they’d watched it play out. “I know it seems hard, right now, but this is for the best — for him. He’ll be helped. We’ll help him,” he promised them.

* * * * *

“Brody, Kieron?” The nurse’s voice was flat, even as she questioned Kieron’s existence.

“Here,” he said dully, making no move to go to her side.

She crossed to him and held up the little paper cup. “Meds,” she said.

He put out his hand, and she put the cup in it.

He took the meds, and handed the cup back.

He put out his hand again, and she put another cup in it.

He took the water, tipping it and the pills down his throat, and handed the cup back.

It was their own little ritual, five times a day.

He waited around twenty minutes or so, and then shuffled off to the bathroom, where he carefully peeled the capsules away from where he’d tucked them against his cheek, and flushed them down the toilet.

He had learned his lessons, in the first few days of this hell.

He no longer had to be held down. He no longer wore restraints in bed. He did not struggle. He did not fight. He gave up, and nursed the tiny spark left in him, waiting and waiting. This couldn’t last. This wouldn’t be forever. He spoke quietly in group, and he parroted back what he knew they wanted, and he was as good a student for the institution as he was at the academy — better, even, because his brilliance could stand out here the way it couldn’t as much in a field full of other brilliant, undrugged, unrestrained students who believed in the ferocity of conformity the Academy expected.

His parents came after only two weeks, after hearing a glowing report from the doctors. He was told of their visit and made sure to behave as the rest of the inpatients did. They visited their son and found him glassy-eyed and compliant, so much of what made him Kieron stripped away, and they could not leave him there for further treatment. He was signed back out again, against medical advice, though the doctor did consent, at last, to allowing Kieron back for therapy if necessary. “But if he must come back, Mr. and Mrs. Brody, I need your assurances you will leave him with us until I deem him fully recovered,” the doctor said, patient but firm.

After agreeing, Kieron found himself back home, in familiar clothes, with familiar love surrounding him, and he imagined that perhaps life could get back to normal, the way it had been. Surely after five years of school going decently well, they would not take it all away from him, only one year from graduation. While he waited, he wrote brief missives to Jet; short notes about his health, and questions about the Academy. He wasn’t allowed to leave the house, and he never managed to catch the carrier, so he always handed the letters over to his parents to mail.

He assumed they would read them, so he wrote nothing about his episodes in them, nor anything that would even bring suspicion. But days went by, and he would hear nothing in response. Still, he sent the letters out into the world, via his mother, via his father, hoping.

One morning, his parents were fairly beaming, and his mother said, “And today, we’ll finally get you settled back into your studies.”

Kieron’s heart leapt. “I’m going back?” he said, his eyes wide, his whole body trembling as he fixated his attention on them.

His mother and father looked worried, glanced at one another, and both tried to talk at once.

“Now, honey,” his mother began.

“Son,” his father said, lifting up a ‘Be Calm’ hand.

Then they both paused, and after a moment or two, it was his mother who offered, “Professor Garrett will be coming to tutor you. Privately.”

Kieron’s shoulders sank, and with them, his heart. He tried not to let the disappointment show on his face. “All right,” he sighed, shrugging, trying to offer them a smile, at least to dull the concerned expressions on their faces. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to end up back in the institute — he knew any fits, be them the episodes he knew, or any of just rage or misery, would land him right back there.

Instead, he complied, as he knew he had to. Go along, to get along.

The next few days were a rush of getting used to new routines, with Professor Garrett, with yet another doctor who wanted to poke and prod him, give him supplements, and have him stand on his head in the sauna for fifteen minutes three times a day, and through it all, Kieron struggled to remain placid, tried not to beg Garrett to advise his parents to send him back to the Academy. The first thing Garrett mentioned, when they were alone, supposedly working through calculus, was “I don’t know as your parents informed you, but Redwell was expelled.”

Kieron looked horrified, paling out, and Garrett reached out a hand, putting it on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re safe here, you know. Your house is a bit of a fortress,” he said, not unkindly.

“Jet,” Kieron breathed, shaking his head. “Not me, Jet.”

Garrett pursed his lips, glancing around, and then said “He’s fine. He’ll be fine as well. You would do well to focus on your work.”

Kieron dropped it, feeling the stirrings in his gut that foretold an episode, sometime that day. Or perhaps it was an odd sense of disappointment that Jet would be fine, but not have written back. If he was going to slip soon, to witness another death, he didn’t want to bring it on any quicker, and didn’t want to push Garrett away by arguing. The man was his only link back to the Academy, back to Jet.

* * * *

Some time later, he happened to be in the front hall when a carrier arrived, offering out mail and packages. Kieron signed for them, and noticed one was for him. His heart soared when he saw Jet’s careful lettering, and he went to set everything down in his father’s office so he could take his letter to his room, and read it. Finally, a response! Just as he dropped everything off on his father’s desk, he heard a sudden and terrible crash, and then his mother was calling out, urgent, pained.

He rushed off to her, and found her tangled in a small ladder, her ankle twisted grotesquely, her orchid planters fallen in disarray. A call was made for the family medic, who showed up quickly, and made sure that the injury was a terrible sprain, and nothing more. It took the afternoon to get her settled, to get things cleaned up. When all was said and done, and she was comfortable, Kieron finally remembered what he’d been about, and he ran to his father’s office to get his letter, so he could read it before Professor Garrett showed up.

When he went to his father’s office to find it, however, the mail was sorted, most of it opened, and the letter nowhere to be seen. He looked on the floor around the desk, in his father’s wastebasket, and could not find it. When his father came in, looking for him, to let him know Garrett had arrived, he found his son under his desk, shining a penlight beneath the feet, using a letter opener to try to reach beneath it. “What, pray tell, are you doing?”

Kieron sat up quickly, smacking his head on the underside of the desk, and climbed out, sheepish. “I was the one who got the mail today,” he said. “I thought I’d seen…”

“Yes?”

“I thought there’d been a letter for me,” Kieron said, watching his father’s face.

“For you?” Ellison Brody said, pursing his lips, looking thoughtful. “I don’t believe–”

“I saw it. It came in an Academy envelope–” Kieron began.

“There was nothing,” Kieron’s father insisted. “I’ve been through all the mail myself,” he said, reassuring. “If you get mail, we’ll make sure you get it.”

Disappointed beyond measure, Kieron nodded, and went off to meet Garrett for tutoring. Go along, to get along.

That night, however, once he was certain everyone was in bed he went to his father’s office, and began to search through his desk — the letter had to be there. It just had to. He opened the doors and drawers of the big mahogany desk, feeling a thrill of excitement move through him, as he carefully searched in forbidden places. The last drawer was locked, but he knew the key was kept beneath the paperweight, so it wouldn’t get lost. When he opened it, he was stunned to find not just the letter, but two bundles of them. He pulled them out, and looked them over, heartsick. One bundle held all the letters he had written to Jet — unsent. The other held letters Jet had written him, including the latest. Two weeks’ worth of daily correspondence, hidden from him.

His heart thundered, and the love of his parents warred with rage — how dare they keep these things from him? He was home, but in truth, this place had become little better than a prison, no different from the institute; this cage was simply prettier.

He paced in front of the fire, thinking, thinking, his mind and heart racing. What could he do, to get beyond this, to use it to his advantage? His father would notice if he took the letters, and would take pains to keep them better hidden. No — this would require something far more planned, far more subtle. At length, it came to him, and he nearly stumbled over himself in his efforts to get started quickly.

Checking the time, he put on a kettle, and as it steamed, he used it to open the letters from Jet, setting aside the papers carefully. He then steamed open the letters that were to be sent, and swapped the contents, putting his carefully handwritten letters into Jet’s envelopes, and then sealed them shut once more. He burned his fingers once or twice, refilling the kettle as he worked into the wee hours, and grew sick with fury over his family’s betrayal.

Finally, he put the kettle back, cleaned up, and went to bed, reading and rereading the letters from Jet, carefully tucking them into his schoolbooks, getting them settled into his texts, flattening them carefully so they wouldn’t be noticed. After so long, he felt like there might be some way through this isolation, and he slept heavily and well.