Scott nearly walked in on Jamie and Amar and slid back into the hallway before they noticed him. What were they talking about? It was tempting to listen, but he respected Jamie’s privacy too much. He noticed another man leaning against the doorframe; Mike Ferrin had no such qualms. Scott knew more than enough about Mike’s character from when they were students together to know that the newly hired teacher had been eavesdropping since class ended. Only four years ago Scott had been a freshman and Mike had been a senior and what Scott had assumed was an innocent crush turned into rape. He knew Mike’s tactics now and he wasn’t about to let the same thing happen to Jamie.
Mike was watching Scott with a smirk, as if he knew how badly Scott wanted to hear what Jamie was saying and he knew Scott would never ask Mike what had already been said. There was also a possessive gleam in his eyes that worried Scott. He knew firsthand how dangerous the man could be, and since Mike was Jamie’s teacher he was afraid Jamie might be intimidated into something he would later regret. Scott had felt pressured into sex by the situation and the fact that Mike was so much older than him; Jamie would feel doubly intimidated.
Grabbing Mike’s shirt, he dragged the man away from the room and ignored the startled looks from the freshman who were shocked to see their teacher manhandled. Well, he wasn’t a teacher in Scott’s eyes. He was nothing but a lecherous creep. Mike allowed himself to be dragged and appeared amused by Scott’s anger. Once they were a safe distance away, Mike broke his grip and turned the tables, slamming him against the wall. He was too surprised to fight for a moment and the man’s handsome red-blond locks brushed against his cheek as Mike leaned in to whisper in his ear.
Mike pressed his body against Scott’s fully for a moment and he went rigid, all too aware of the students in the hallway staring. He hoped it looked like a fight from their point of view, and not the sexual advance that it was. The feel of Mike’s body against his brought back his memory of the rape vividly: Mike had brought him here, to this hallway, when he was a freshman like Jamie. It was after hours, when everyone was gone, and Mike had forced him against this very wall while he stroked and kissed and pushed against Scott. Scott fought at first, but Mike’s persistence and skilled hands did things to Scott’s body that were incredible and when Scott’s attempts to fight began to grow desperate and violent, Mike had overpowered him. Scott eventually surrendered with a wail that brought one of the teachers. The teacher had simply stared at the two of them locked in only partially consensual sex, then turned his back.
At the time, Scott had felt raped twice, once by Mike and again by the teacher who knew but let it happen. He didn’t know then about the exam, or the consequences of taking it as a virgin. He didn’t know that the upperclassmen, including Mike at the time, were assigned freshmen to seduce in an attempt to reduce the inevitable casualties that took place at the exam. All he knew was that a teacher had seen Mike forcing his way into him while Scott cried and tried to say no, and the teacher had done nothing.
This year, very few of the students were virgins and all but one had been taken care of already. All but Jamie. He had resisted everyone’s efforts, including one physical assault by an overzealous senior in the locker room. It didn’t help that everyone assumed he was straight until quite recently. The council who ran the exam had sent dozens of girls after him and he had skillfully deflected them, just as he was deflecting the men they were now sending.
Scott had been watching the situation closely because he saw himself in Jamie’s attempts to be free. Jamie just wanted to do things at his own pace, just like Scott had wanted, but at this school you either had sex or died. It was a cruel fate and sometime Scott wondered why Jamie had even been allowed into the school.
Scott had never taken part in what he considered the rape of the underclassmen, but when he saw that the council was seriously considering sending men like Mike after the boy, he had approached them and asked if he could try. The old men had been practically salivating at the thought that Scott was finally obeying their commands and participating in their ridiculous, corrupt practices. He hid his disdain, though, because he honestly wanted to be the one to take Jamie and angering them would injure the boy.
The council didn’t let him go easy, though. He had to agree to be on their list of upperclassmen they could call for difficult cases like Jamie in future semesters. The council could call him back to the school until he turned twenty-five: three more years. It was worth it, he decided, to be able to woo Jamie the way the boy deserved. And he was having results. He and Jamie had already developed a friendship, and he had seen Jamie looking at him with a hint of fire in his eyes.
The boy seemed so fragile, but Scott was willing to be that under the surface was a passionate, outgoing man just waiting to burst out of the protective shell he had built over the years. He ached for the pain and hardship the boy had been through: losing both parents and having to live in an emotionally abusive home the past few years. The scars ran deep in Jamie and Scott just wanted to hold the boy and fill those scars with kisses and love, but Scott also had a time limit. The first year exam was in two weeks and if Jamie was still a virgin, he would be unable to form the kind of emotional attachment necessary to survive.
Scott tried to accustom the boy to physical contact frequently, but Jamie was still hesitant. He tried subtle gestures, since larger gestures seemed to frighten Jamie: bumping against him in the hallways, brushing hands while passing him a slice of pizza, gripping his shoulder and gazing into his eyes when he said something important or funny.
Slowly, Jamie was coming out of his shell in a way he hadn’t with any other upperclassman and Scott was finding himself entranced by the gentle, sweet boy. He wished he could push back the exam, but no human could do that. Jamie deserved proper wooing, and the council was giving them no time. Only two weeks to the exam and Jamie hadn’t even admitted he was gay, but perhaps this conversation with Amar was a sign that Jamie was becoming more comfortable with the thought of intimacy.
“Thinking about Jamie?” Mike asked.
Scott had nearly forgotten he was there. Mike had backed off a few feet and the jealousy in his eyes was clear as he continued.
“Everyone is allowed to go after him, you know,” Mike continued. “Not just you. And I have a proven track record for my ability to break difficult men.”
He stroked Scott’s cheek and Scott shivered. Scott had also been considered a difficult case, like Jamie, until Mike was assigned to him. The council preferred to avoid rape, but would allow it as a last resort. Scott had been raped two days before the exam and as much as he hated Mike for what he had done, he knew it had saved his life. Students needed to have the ability to form an intimate, physical relationship with another creature during the exam, and as the council always pointed out, the best way to do that was to form a sexual relationship beforehand as practice. It was a cruel truth and Scott knew that Mike’s actions were absolutely necessary in his case. But they wouldn’t be necessary for Jamie. Scott would see to that.
“I’m taking care of it, Mike,” Scott said. “You don’t need to get involved.”
“Yeah, I think you might be right, based on what he was saying in there. But if this falls through, I’ll be waiting. Everyone else has given up. They think he’s incapable of new relationships after his father was killed. But I won’t let one of my students go into the exam unprepared.”
“How noble of you,” Scott said under his breath.
He wondered if Mike had taken any other students to bed, and if the young teacher had bothered to get permission from the council first. Mike was only three years older than him and six years older than his students, so age wasn’t that much of an issue, but the power of his position should have made Mike unable to pursue the students. The idea of a teacher and student together was unpleasant, to say the least. There was no way a student could fully consent in that relationship and Scott was quite sensitive to the pain of nonconsensual encounters.
“If you haven’t finished the job in a week, I’ll take over,” Mike warned. “The council wanted me to warn you.”
“I have two weeks,” Scott said, alarmed at having his time cut in half. Two weeks he could manage, but not one. Not with a boy as sensitive and nervous about intimacy as Jamie. “I’ll be there in two weeks, and well on my way in one.”
“The council says one week,” Mike said with a shrug. “They want to be safe and I don’t blame them. It’s not too late to expel him, after all. He doesn’t know anything about us.”
“No. He’ll take the exam and he’ll get through it. And I’ll be the one to help him.”
Mike sighed. “I believe you. Like I said, I think he has potential and I haven’t given up on him. But the council has. You have one week and then he’s expelled. Better expelled than, well, you know.”
Scott thought of the corpses that littered the ground after each of the exams. No matter what the council did, how many students they weeded out during the first few months, there were always casualties. There was just no way to truly determine who would live and who would die once the exam started and the eggs began to hatch.
He felt the familiar brush of another voice on his consciousness reaffirming his belief that Jamie would survive and he nodded. Mike must have taken that as agreement to the one week because he left, but Scott didn’t care. Whatever happened, Jamie would take the exam and he would live through it. He had to. Narné had never been wrong before and was far more perceptive than many of his kin, and Narné predicted that Jamie would not only pass the exam, he would take the most prized egg of all: the Queen’s.
Inwardly he cursed the council for their interference and wondered if he could get out of his side of the agreement since they had changed theirs. Probably not. They did what they wanted and no one could say otherwise. They had become corrupt and only someone with a Queen egg had any chance of overthrowing them. If Jamie managed to survive the exam and bond with a Queen, he would be equal to the council and he could put an end to the rapes and bribery that went on behind the scenes at the council’s command. The council only saw Jamie as a weakling, but Narné saw him as the man who would bring about a new era at Tarragon Academy. As long as Scott could get him there.