Disclaimer: I do not own anything Twilight related
Thank-you to my lovely wife Cutestkidsmom, my pre-reader Pricana, and my beta Eternally Edward's Girl for their help and encouragement.
I stare dumbly at Edward, this is pretty much every nightmare I have ever had come to life. I had tried so hard to make a good impression on the others and now, the one person they take their lead from has publicly assisted in humiliating me. My mouth opens and closes a few times … great now my voice has decided to stop working. Nice work karma, I wouldn't have thought of that.
"I think you broke her dear." Esme is enjoying witnessing this further embarrassment. "At least you didn't make this one service you before you tossed her aside."
"Well in all fairness I wasn't in the mood to walk her through it." I don't know what is worse, the fact that Edward continued to belittle me like I wasn't there, or the fact that he didn't seem to get any satisfaction out of it one way or the other. "You know my rules mother, virgins can get too clingy. She'd have our children named before I'd wiped off and left. The crying gives me such a headache …"
That's it, I feel tears springing to my eyes but I push them down, I won't give them the satisfaction. And two can play at this game. "I think you may have misunderstood, I was given a task to do and you were in no danger of getting anything out of me. I was not in any way trying to get you too aroused, I needed you clear-headed to ensure the message was accurate and, in my experience I have found that men have been given a penis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one of them at once."
"In your experience? You aren't fooling anyone little girl. You are about as experienced with men as you are with being an astronaut." Edward chuckles at his own joke.
"I grew up in a rural area, worked on a pig farm one summer when I was fourteen. I find the skills to be ... transferable." I smile my biggest 'fuck-you' smile I could, then turned to Esme. "Are we finished for today Mistress Esme?" She nods and I turn on my heel and walk away without another word.
Rose joins me as I am walking down the hall, without any clue where I am going. She takes my hand and whispers to me "Don't look back, that was absolutely amazing. I have never seen anyone able to do that to him before!" We turn the corner and Rose hugs me tightly.
"He pissed me off. I get the feeling he does that a lot around here?" I don't want to, but I hug Rose back and let her linger. Her hair smells just like I remembered.
"Of course he does. He's been using the Red Collars as his own personal harem for years. No one stands up to him because of who his mother is. He delights in tormenting the new girls." She breaks the embrace and looks at me. "Until you came along that is… that was EPIC."
"Fat lot of good it'll do me. Esme will make me pay for that I'm sure. It won't do any of the girls he has tormented in the past any good either. Did he really do … what she said he did to another girl?" I'm not sure I wanted to know, but I am in the belly of the beast here and it is no time to be squeamish.
"Yes he did, and you've done her more good than you will ever know." Rose has a look in her eye that is profound sadness mixed with a thinly veiled rage. She blinks once and it is gone, she smiles at me and steers me toward another hallway. "I didn't want to mess up your dramatic exit, but you have no idea where you are going do you?"
"Not really, apparently I'm done for the day." I look around trying to get my bearings. "How do you not get lost in this place? Everything looks the same."
"I could tell you, but let's see if you can figure it out." Rose stands behind me, puts her hands on my hips and whispers into my ear. "Everything you need to know to find your way is in this hall, if you know how to look."
I look, slightly distracted by Rose's closeness and her touch. I look at the pattern on the polished stone floor. I notice that there are four colors, one on each corner of every center stone. Red, blue, black, and white; I tell Rose what I see, but I still didn't know what it means.
"Very good Bella!" Rose kisses my cheek. "You are the first one to get it so quickly. The colors are directions. Follow the red and you will end up in the dorms, blue will lead to the various eating and entertainment lounges, white is for the training areas, and black will lead you back out to the main hall to the exit.
I mentally make note of all of this, every piece of information helps. "Where am I staying?" I ask Rose.
"Well typically, trainees are given sleeping assignments, but because of your special training restrictions you are free to choose who you spend your nights with, if anyone. I can show you to a private room, or anywhere else you'd like to go." There is no question what Rose is offering and I want to take her up on the offer. I hold back, however, knowing that any attachments I form would put that person at risk, should Esme indirectly wish to hurt me further.
"I am a little hungry …" I venture, disappointment flashes across Rose's face, but only for a second.
"Of course, right this way." Hand in hand we walk toward the dining hall. I have a sumptuous dinner, realizing for the first time that I had missed lunch. After dinner Rose shows me to a single room where I can sleep. She informs me she will be just across the hall if I need 'anything'.
The next few weeks go by in a blur, before I know it I am on my last day and preparing to leave. I am in the shower and Rose is waiting to help me dress and prep for my "placement ceremony" where the Board will decide which faction will be saddled with the girl, who apparently is good at nothing.
As I shower I reflect on everything that has happened during my time with the Red Collars. I think about Rose and how I had resisted getting too close to her. I like her, and I feel a certain attachment to her. That first night when I separated myself from her and was able to think clearly again, I realized that the feelings I was having for her were a result of a combination of my own sexual inexperience and her own training that I was responding to. She wasn't trying to seduce me; she just couldn't help being the person her training had made her. I avoided any personal attachments with her after that, though I had to admit, I did enjoy her company.
I thought about Esme, and the various mental games she played with me. I particularly loathe her for the stunt she pulled a few days earlier. I was subjected to a "documentation session" where I was basically stripped naked and photographed. Esme assured me that this was a standard practice, but I could tell that she was lying. She did assure me that it was fortunate that she didn't need to take a video of me since she already took the liberty of recording my session on my first day with Rose. I tried to play it off like it didn't bother me, but I could tell that my reaction to this news was written all over my face. Esme smiled at me then, she knew she had scored a hit.
Rose helps me dress in a nice outfit. I purposefully refuse to wear anything red. I wear a white blouse, black skirt and a blue silk scarf. I am not about to give the board any help seeing me as one of the Reds. I wear my mother's pendant, not tucked in as it usually was. As passive resistance goes, it isn't much, but it will have to do.
Once I am ready, Rose presses something into my hand. I look down and see a bracelet. Each link of the bracelet has a different color rose in between it. There is a red, white, blue and black rose on it. It is beautiful! I forget myself for a moment and hug Rose, thanking her for the gift. She puts it on my wrist, and kisses my hand.
"You're ready," she says. "You'll be fine, after today no one will doubt that you are one of us." I wasn't sure if 'one of us' means a Red Collar of just a member of the Gentlemen in general. I guess I will find out soon enough.
I walk down the corridor with Rose, using the stones to direct me to the exit. It is the only path I have never followed, I knew the day that I left I would follow it. I hadn't allowed myself to do it before then. It is my reward for coming through this ordeal, stronger then when I had entered.
Esme is waiting by the exit. "Bella my dear, I'm so sorry that our time has been so short. I have enjoyed being your instructor immensely, and I want you to know that you will always be welcome here." She smiles and holds out her hand to me.
"Thank you for your hospitality, and for making me a stronger person. I will always be grateful to you for that." I ignore her hand and turn to Rose. "Thank you so much for all your help Rose, I hope to be able to someday return the kindness you've shown me. One thing I want you know about me, I never forget to repay what is owed." I allow my eyes to shift to Esme and we lock eyes. She looks away first, my meaning is clear. I walk through the door without looking back. Garrett is waiting for me on the other side; he looks just as he did two weeks ago when I left him. It is as though he had stayed there and held vigil, waiting for my return.
"Hey kid," Garrett greets me as I come through the door. He puts his foot against the door as Esme starts to close it. "Just a minute please," he turns to me. "Is there anything we need to deal with right now Bella?"
My breath catches in my throat, I do not expect this. He is basically offering to start a war for me right here, all he needs is my word to do it. I love him for this, but I know that it is exactly what Esme wants and I'm not about to take the bait.
"No Garrett, everything is fine. I would appreciate it if you would accompany me to the placement ceremony." Garrett removes his foot from the door and follows me away from the Red Collar wing. I want to get as far away from Esme as possible.
"Okay kid, what gives?" Garrett knows something is up and he doesn't like mysteries.
"Nothing, this isn't the time." I have to think about my next move.
"Not the time? So something did happen?" Garrett stops and looks back at the door like he is ready to charge through it and start blasting away with Katrina.
"Listen Garrett, she wants me to complain to you and Dad, to force a confrontation. I'm not giving her the satisfaction. Think about it, all of this was designed to facilitate a power play to get one up on my father, I won't allow that." Garrett frowns uncertainly. "I'm fine, she followed the rules … basically."
"Basically?" From Garrett's tone, I get the feeling that I'm not making things better here.
"Yes basically, you didn't think that dad's little gambit was going to go unanswered do you?" I haven't been here as long as Garrett but I am amazed at how naïve he is being. "I'm not talking about it right now anyway. We can deal with it later." The placement ceremony is my only focus.
"Okay, but we are going to talk about this later …" Garrett obviously sees the wisdom in following my lead on this, but I know this is not the end of it.
We make it up to the Boardroom and I walk in with Garrett. I am early, so I am permitted to wait with Garrett in the antechamber.
We wait in silence until Garrett speaks up. "We missed having you around Bella, I'm glad you're back." He smiles at me, but I can tell he is scrutinizing me for signs of what had happened.
"It's good to be back. I missed you too." I really do not want to do this with him right now, but I smile and squeeze his big hand.
"Excuse me, Ms …" I look up and see Vladamir standing there, obviously confused as to how to address me.
"Swan." I help him out, I like Vladamir, but I am still cautious.
"Of course Ms. Swan, forgive me I won't forget again." Vladamir has an old fashioned charm about him. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but they are starting to come in now. Would you please come with me?"
"Of course, thank you." I turn back to Garrett. "I'll be right back, we'll talk more tonight okay?"
"Whatever you say kid," he looks me over. "By the way, you look fantastic." He gives me a kiss on the cheek and sits down to wait. "Knock 'em dead."
I walk the short distance to the entrance to the Board room with Vladamir. He opens the door for me and I enter. Everyone is there. My father and all the other Board members are seated in what I assume are their customary seats. I allow Vladamir to seat me, and then fade into the background as is his way.
"Welcome to your placement ceremony Bella." My father begins. "During this meeting we will hear from your trainers and decide which faction you will be placed in. If no one has any objections, we will begin now." My father looks around the table at his fellow Board members.
"I have an objection…" Esme's familiar voice fills the room. "This is your daughter, Charles. To avoid any conflict of interest I would like for you to name another Board member to preside over this in your stead. You are of course, still eligible to vote." It is obvious what Esme is doing here. She is gauging my father's support among the board members, and no one is speaking up in his defense. My father isn't stupid enough to fall for this and reveal his hand over such a petty request, so he bides his time.
"Very well, Mr. Black, would you be so kind?" My father shocks everyone by naming Mr. Black, I'm sure everyone expected him to name Mr. Cullen since he is a White Collar, but since he is married to Esme my father obviously feels he cannot be completely trusted.
"Sure Charles," Mr. Black begins. "So Bella, this is how this is gonna work." (I could listen to this man's Bronx accent all day.) "We are gonna discuss your training results and determine what it is you are good at. Then we are gonna vote, and basically whatever faction gets the most votes, is the one you are gonna be placed in."
I stand there and listen to the reports from the various instructors that I had encountered throughout various training sessions. None of them say anything negative, but neither did they sing my praises either. I am described as having only a 'basic' or 'rudimentary" grasp of the concepts that were shown to me and that 'no significant aptitude' was demonstrated with the various tasks I had performed.
Finally, Mr. Black is handed a report. "It is the judgment of Ms. Swan's trainers that her talents lie in the following areas. Observation, deduction, and social peer-bonding." I have no idea what that means but I am sure I'm about to find out. "These aptitudes are suitable for any of the various factions, so it comes down to the vote." Mr. Black passes around a black velvet bag. Every member casts their vote by placing either a red, blue or white token in it. Mr. Grigorii totals the votes and motions for the other members to gather around him. Great, what now?
"The rules are clear." I hear my father say to the other members.
"But it has never happened like this before." Esme responds.
"The rules make no such distinction." Ms. Young adds.
"Billy, please reveal the results of the vote to Bella." My father sits back down.
As they all move to sit down I see the tokens sitting on the boardroom table. There are two of each color sitting on the bag… a three-way tie.
"Ms. Swan, it is the determination of this Board that you be entered into full-spectrum training. Meaning you will be a member of each faction, and none." Mr. Black seems uncomfortable with his next question. "You will need to report to the head of one faction. Since it is a split vote, you get to pick your sponsoring faction for yourself."
"Whatever faction you select will be in charge of you in name only, you will be answerable only to…" my father trails off. "Well, you will be answerable to the Board. Your faction choice will be for administrative purposes only."
"I see, and I can choose any faction?" I have an idea, but I am stalling for time while I think it through.
"Oh Bella, don't be coy, I think we all know you will choose the Whites. After all, the safety of daddy watching over you is too good a perk to pass up." Esme is obviously not happy with this latest development.
"I think you once again underestimate me. I have decided." I take a deep breath, "I will choose the Red Collars as my sponsoring faction, if Ms. Cullen has no objections." I had the distinct pleasure of rendering that bitch speechless. Suck it Esme, I play for keeps!
"Of… course not. We'd be delighted to have you." Esme is not used to being caught off guard like this.
"Bella… Are you sure you want to do this?" My father's voice has a hint of warning to it.
"Yes Father, I appreciate your concern, but I don't want to complicate things with the appearance that I am getting special treatment, or give the illusion of impropriety. I think that the entire Board can agree that there is no conflict of interest here." I have to admit, I am impressed with myself.
"Agreed. If there is nothing else?" Mr. Black looks like he wants to lay down somewhere and have a stroke.
"Wait, the tokens?" Mr. Denali breaks his silence.
"Of course." My father says wryly.
The Board members all take turns presenting me with "tokens". Each one carries the symbol of the Gentlemen and they are all quite lavish.
My father gives me a pair of diamond earrings with the tri-ring symbol. Mr Denali gives me an ornate butterfly knife, Esme presents me with a brooch, and Mr. Cullen produces a signet ring. Ms. Young hands me a hairpin that looks like it can double as a stiletto (I have been hanging around Eleazar too much.) and Mr. Black hands me a device that looks like a gun, but no gun I had ever seen.
"What is it?" I ask him when he hands it to me.
"Billy …" my father begins in a warning tone.
"If she is to be part of the blues, even a small part she must bear the mark." Mr. Black is not leaving any room for discussion.
"So it's a …?" I am afraid to ask.
"Tattoo gun. You will receive the mark of the Gentlemen. I don't care where." Mr. Black is smiling.
"Tattoo? Yeah, sure … ok thanks." I figure as surprises go this one is fairly minor.
"Very good. Welcome aboard! Session adjourned, I need a drink!" Mr. Black stands and leaves the room.
I am escorted from the room and brought back to Garrett. I am not looking forward to telling him about this one.
"So, where did you end up?" Garrett is nearly bursting.
"Well, it's a little complicated …" I start, and then my father enters the room.
"Bella, what the hell was that? Have you lost your mind?" He is beet red and obviously furious.
"No, have you forgotten the advice you gave me?" I respond.
"What are you talking about?" he asks me perplexed.
"Esme is obviously making a play for your position as the head of the most powerful faction. Since you don't have anyone to keep an eye on things from within the Red Collars, I thought I could serve better in that capacity." I watch his face relax as he listens to me.
"Bella, that is brilliant, but dangerous." My father begins. "Anyway, what makes you think I don't already have eyes and ears in that area?"
I kiss his cheek and whisper to him. "Because if you did … She would have been killed my first day of training." I motion to Garrett. "Can we get something to eat? I'm starving!"
"Um, sure." Garrett is confused. "Is anyone going to tell me what is going on here?"
"Sure Garrett, but later ok?" I walk off with him and he persists.
"At least tell me what color collar you are." Garrett is starting to panic so I relent.
"It was a tie vote; I'm a … rainbow collar." I like the sound of that.
Garrett shakes his head. "Nothing's ever simple with you is it kid?"
Fic Recommendations - Please check out Salacious and Because of a Boy by Cutestkidsmom (my darling wife) and Love Through Another's Eyes by EternallyEdwardsGirl (My beta). Also check out this weeks FOTW winners on TLS!
I am also now on wordpress. Due to the number of fics being pulled from FFN I have decided to protect my work by putting it on Wordpress to protect the continuity (link is rjjking. wordpress. com [remove spaces]) Info can be found my FFN profile.
Contest Announcement con't - (Winner will be announced next week) I have been getting a lot of requests for things to be put into the story that I can't work in but are good ideas, so I have come up with an idea. I am going to hold a contest, whoever gives me the best theory on what will happen next in the story will win a on-shot stand alone lemon, (written by me) with YOU as the main character. it will be you and any one of the characters in the story introduced so far, in a setting/style you choose. Basically, you say it... I write it. Please be sure to let me know in your review that you want your theory considered for the contest. Good Luck!