~Author's Note~

Hello everyone, thank you for stopping by. This one is something I've been trying to iron out for awhile. It is a romance but it's just as much about my main character's other platonic relationships so it will take some time for the romance elements to start up. The fantasy elements are very tangential so if that's what you're looking for you might want to find another.

The M rating is just for the language really, I figured if it would get it an R rating in a movie in the states I should give it the M just in case.

Alex couldn't remember a single time he had been in his mother's study under good circumstances. It was usually only ever when he had done something wrong. In his mother's opinion at least. The earliest he could recall must have been when he was about five, when the mutt he snuck in to the house managed to track mud in to the one part of that absurdly big building that his mother also passed through that day. A more recent time was when she asked his Mandarin tutor how his lessons were going and she fixated on when he said 'could still improve'.

Now she had asked him to come see her there again, and he spent the whole trek trying to figure what it would be this time. He thought he had been so careful recently. He couldn't think of a single thing off the top of his head, but he needed to think like his mother in cases like these. It was summer, so no grades to criticize. His language lessons were also on pause while his tutors were on holiday. He guessed he was falling a little behind on practicing his archery, but his mother never cared too much about that. That was the one of the reasons he kept up with it after all.

The only thing he could think of was their last family gathering, his cousin's birthday party up in Yorkshire. He usually managed to do something to piss her off at family events. He was so sure he had done fine that time, though. He was dressed properly. Didn't drink a drop of anything besides water. He hardly even spoke to anyone. Maybe that was it, then. He had made himself too scarce. So concerned with keeping from doing something embarrassing that he ended up coming off as rude.

Alex stopped walking as he felt his breath start to catch. He closed his eyes and tried to steady it, but then remembered he was standing in the middle of a hallway. He glanced around to see if he was alone, not exactly sure why he was worried that someone might have caught him breathing. There was no one, which only made him feel more embarrassed by his paranoia.

Why was something that should be so simple causing him so much anxiety? Why was hearing the words "Your mother wants to see you in her study" enough to make him hyperventilate? Why did he have to do mental backflips just to get through a cousin's birthday without disgracing his family's name?

Because you're a Conrad, idiot, his snarky inner voice answered. Alex bit his tongue to keep himself from answering it out loud.

Start talking to yourself and they'll finally have an excuse to get rid of you.

"Oh, piss off," he couldn't stop himself from saying. Of course, the second he did one of the cleaning staff emerged from one of the spare rooms with a pile of linens in her arms. She was new, but Alex was pretty sure her name was Camile. She looked at Alex with wide eyes, obviously wondering what she had done to warrant such an outburst yet too afraid to ask.

"No, I wasn't-" Alex started to apologize, but stopped when he realized I wasn't talking to you, I was talking to myself didn't sound great either. Instead, he bowed his head and muttered, "I'm sorry."

Camile's posture tensed slightly. "No, I'm sorry, sir," she said, her voice shaking slightly. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

Alex tried not to let it show how bothered he was by that 'sir'. She had to be at least five years older than him. He could only imagine how stupid it must feel to have to call a teenager 'sir' out of fear of losing your job.

"You didn't, I promise," he said, moving so he could get out of her way. He felt like he should offer to help her with whatever she was doing, but he had a feeling that may not be the best idea at the moment. He had already kept his mother waiting a whole minute after all. "I'm sorry, I have to meet with my mother, but I promise you've done nothing wrong."

"... Okay," she said, and Alex noticed a bit of the tenseness from before slipped away. "Have a... have a nice day, sir."

"Thank you, Camile."

Alex turned to keep walking the direction he had been going, but before he did, he noticed visible surprise flash across Camile's face at Alex knowing her name. He made a point of suppressing any more outbursts lest he frighten another employee. His mother was a sufficient enough source of unwarranted anger and stress in their lives.

The door to his mother's study was closed when he arrived. He listened for a moment to gauge if she was talking with anyone, either in person or on the telephone. She had chewed him out plenty of times for interrupting her when he knocked, despite him only ever coming by when she asked him to. When he heard nothing after a few seconds he tapped his knuckles on the door.

"Come in," she said. She didn't sound particularly upset, though sometimes it was hard to tell. Her angry and neutral tones were so similar. Even with fifteen years under his belt Alex had a hard time distinguishing her moods on the sound alone. The key was usually in her eyes.

He opened the door and walked in slowly, putting in extra effort to straighten his posture as he did. The last thing he needed walking in to this conversation on how he had disappointed his mother this week was to give her something additional to complain about.

His mother's study was such a strange place to be in. It was ornately decorated yet still highly impersonal. The back wall had a giant window that overlooked the estate's gardens, but he knew she didn't really care about the view. The right and left walls had bookshelves filled with books that had never been opened. Art that probably cost more than it was really worth adorned the wall by the door, but their only real purpose was to impress any visitors that came by. One Alex even knew was only there because his uncle Sebastian had wanted it, and his mother felt like spiting him. The couches and low table had the same guest impressing purpose, too old fashioned and expensive to be comfortable or welcoming.

Then of course there was her desk. Dark and polished and imposing. It was almost always full of files and books, but never arranged in a way that looked messy. She was sitting in front of it when he walked in, in a desk chair that matched the couches in look and comfort, looking down at a bundle of papers in front of her. He couldn't see her eyes, but her furrowed brow and way she was tapping her pen on her desk were not good signs.

Alex didn't say anything right away, he just shut the door behind him and sat down on the couch. His mother didn't even glance up at him. He wasn't sure how to take that. Usually when she was upset with him, she wasted no time letting him know exactly why. Though the silent treatment only made him think that maybe whatever it was he had done this time was just so much worse than anything before.

The silence was oppressive, but he knew he shouldn't be the one to break it. He just sat there and waited, ignoring the impulse to fidget with the collar of his shirt or the tassels on the pillow next to him. After a minute that felt like five, his mother looked up from her papers and put her pen down on top of them.

"The school year is starting next month," she said, standing up. She was wearing a slightly more subdued outfit than usual that day. Just a white flowy blouse tucked into tan wide leg pants. She had on simple gold necklaces and earrings, and her wavy red hair was loose around her shoulders. If you didn't know her well enough you might assume that she was your average working mother.

"Yes," Alex said, slightly thrown off by how she had decided to start the conversation.

His mother pushed in her desk chair and walked over to sit on the couch across from Alex. "Your uncle has been quite overwhelmed; with all the changes they'll be implementing."

Alex stopped himself from rolling his eyes. This? Was this really what she dragged him in here to talk about? Or was this just a bizarre segue?

"I can imagine," he said, trying his best not sound too apathetic. It was his uncle and everyone else's fault for changing nothing for so long in the first place.

"What do you think of it all?"

"What?" Alex hadn't meant to say that. He knew his mother hated having to repeat herself, but he hoped she would give him a pass this time. When was the last time she had asked his opinion on anything?

Her pointed look made it clear the pass was not on the table. "This whole mess with the school," she clarified, though the way she said it, it sounded more like 'What do you think, genius?'.

"Well, it's good, right? I mean, it was the good choice to make, given the circumstances. If they hadn't responded the way they did, then the public just would have gotten exponentially upset."

"And what about the families who objected? They are the ones the school is meant to serve after all."

They can go fuck themselves, Alex's inner voice replied automatically. He didn't tell it to shut up, but he also wasn't prepared to let him be heard by anyone else.

"Well, if the school was seen as discriminatory by too many members of the public," he said carefully, "then it would take away from the legitimacy of their education, and their children's education. The chances would keep increasing that someone would see Conrad Prep on their transcripts and wonder if they were admitted based on merit or family connections. And how long before people start wondering if admittance can be bought, what else can be? The families may not like the changes at first, but they do stand to benefit from them. Even if they don't realize it right away."

It wasn't Alex's opinion, or argument. It was an amalgamation of every conversation he had overheard his uncle Thomas having since the debacle started back in March. It was how he had rationalized the changes to every elitist with their head up their ass who wriggled into his presence. He doubted how much his uncle even believed in the train of logic, but it had worked well enough to get most of them to leave him alone. Alex hoped it would have the same effect on his mother.

"A very diplomatic answer," his mother said, her expression stoic. "I imagine that's why your uncle came up with it."

Shit. "I guess I should have known you would know that."

"Yes, you should have."

"Do you really want my opinion then?"

"You agree with the ones who started all this, don't you?"

"I don't see the problem with giving everyone a fair shot. If you only let certain people in, it's not a school, it's a social club."

"That's always been the point, Alexander. What's set Conrad Prep apart."

"Well, if it keeps up there will come a day when it sets us apart in a way that can't be sustained. Whatever argument you use to justify it, if the school doesn't change it'll become irrelevant. Maybe not right away, but some day... Why are we talking about this? If you really hate this so much, one word to Thomas and he'll stop the whole thing."

Alex's mother smiled in a way that made his stomach flip. "He would, wouldn't he?" she said, sounding quite pleased about that. "But no. You are right, unfortunately. The school has been behind the whims of the masses for a while, and we're reaching a point where mob mentality carries too much influence to be ignored."

"You know some people call that democracy."

"I am glad to see you understand how important it is that this transition goes smoothly then. Should make what I need you to do that much easier."

And there it was. The only other reason Alex had ever been asked to see his mother in her study. She was going to tell him to do something he would absolutely hate.

"Since you are so informed on the issue, I trust the name Matthew Montoya is familiar to you."

"Yes, it is."

"You'll be in a suite with him this year."


Again, Alex hadn't meant to say that. He also hadn't meant for it to come out so high pitched and panicked sounding. Luckily, this time his mother was extending that pass. She sighed like she was expecting this.

"Alexander, please."

"Sorry," he said, hoping he sounded more sincere than he felt.

"I will say I was unsure about this when Thomas suggested it, but the more I thought on it the more I felt it was necessary. That boy managed to bring the school to its knees without even being a student. Imagine what he might do once he gets here."

"I doubt he plans on world domination."

"It would be a good idea if someone was able to keep a close eye on him."

"If someone could spy on him," Alex corrected.

"Not just that," his mother continued. Alex liked how she didn't deny the spy point. "Your disposition towards his class lends itself well to befriending him. Showing him that his assumptions about people like us aren't entirely true."

"If I'm only befriending him to put on a good show, I'm just confirming his assumptions, no?"

"Well, he won't know that."

"You think? You think he'll just take being assigned a Conrad for his flatmate without a second thought? That he won't suspect anything strange about the headmaster's nephew living with him? The founder's direct descendant?" His mother's eyes had been fairly neutral this entire time, but they were starting to shift toward annoyed. Alex registered that change, but he didn't let it stop him. "And what about Jack? His parents have insisted on him having constant supervision since he was seven. You going to put all of us up together?"

"I already discussed the matter with the Farrows. Jonathan will be in a single suite this year. I told them I believe he has matured enough to not need a 24/7 babysitter anymore."

"No, you don't."

Alex regretted saying that as soon as he did, then even more when he saw his mother's eyes shift from annoyed to angry. "I'm not asking you to do this, Alexander," she reminded him. "I'm telling you. That boy is bound to be a liability. He needs to be kept in check, and you're the only one who can do it without causing too much of a stir."

Alex wanted to say that this was a bad idea. That not only was it something he shouldn't be doing, but that he was quite sure he couldn't. Not even if he wanted to. But his mother had meant what she said. This wasn't a request; it was an order. And you don't defect on an order from a Conrad. Especially not Margaret Conrad. Especially not when you're her son.

"It's simple really," his mother continued, taking his beat of silence as a nonverbal surrender. "Even Sean could have managed it."

"Why not ask him then?" Alex muttered, too angry to filter himself.

"That was the original plan, actually. But Mary was still concerned over his troubling behavior last year, so he'll be attending Laughlin this year."

Alex clenched his jaw at that new bit of information. Great. Not only he was being asked to commit to the dumbest espionage mission on the planet, but he hadn't even been the first choice for it. He was second pick to the only other person in his family that was close to being more of a pariah than him.

Maybe you should stuff a couple joints under your pillow next time they do a room check, his inner voice suggested. Then they'll ship you off to Dublin too.

"Not the worst idea," he muttered.

"Thomas will certainly have one less problem on his hands at least," his mother replied, thinking he was talking about Sean. "As I was saying, all you need to do is befriend him. Be amicable. Welcoming. Inform Thomas if anything... concerning comes up."

"Like what?"

"I imagine you'll know it when it happens. Though, do try to be making judgements like a Conrad and not like..."

"Myself?" Alex suggested.

"For lack of a better word, yes. I imagine you can utilize your personable nature to prevent it from getting that far though."

Wow, she really doesn't know anything about you, does she?

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, I guess." It's completely unfounded. "Was there anything else?"

"Not at the moment, but if there are updates, you'll know."

His mother stood up and went back to her desk to go back through her papers. She didn't say 'goodbye' or 'see you later' or even 'you can go now'. It was like Alexander ceased to exist the moment she no longer needed him. Why say goodbye to someone who in your eyes wasn't even there anymore?

Alex stood up and left, careful not to slam the door behind him. Personable? Really? Compared to her maybe, but Alex was garbage at socializing. He had one friend, and only that much because he and Jack had been forced together. Not to mention the fact that it took them about five years to stop being at each other's throats. Alex couldn't even remember the last time he spoke to any other schoolmate he wasn't related or engaged to. If he couldn't even manage to form a casual acquaintance under normal circumstances, how was he supposed to do it with his mother and uncle breathing down his neck? With someone who was bound to see right through him the moment they met?

Anxiety was rising in Alex's throat again, but instead of making his breath hitch it was starting to make his blood boil. If he didn't calm down, he imagined he would start to catch fire. He hurried away from his mother's office and all but ran through the halls and down the stairs, towards the door that opened near the path to the stables.