Matt never found it easy to sit still when he felt strongly about anything, and less so with the tangle of agitation and worry and protectiveness Shimai could feel pulsing and writhing inside.

She, on the other hand, preferred her spot on his bed, her back to the wall, her arms wrapped around her raised knees. Being a smaller target had never really helped much, but at least she could feel less exposed.

“You're going to have to tell them,” Matt said.

“I can't do that,” she said miserably. “Do you really think they're going to care whether I've ever done anything to hurt anyone? They're going to say that it's just a matter of time until I go crazy and start using it to manipulate people.” At least she could be sure that she'd never done so accidentally: they'd discovered, through cautious testing that involved an insane degree of trust on Matt's part, that it needed unbroken concentration and considerable effort. “Either the stories are wrong, because there's no possible way I could keep anyone under control constantly or multiple people at once even briefly, or I still have a very long way to go before I reach full strength. The first one makes more sense, but you know they're going to assume either that I'm lying or that I'm just not yet as strong as I will be.”

“They have absolutely no reason to accuse you of doing anything wrong. I'm with you more than anyone, and Fala nearly as often, and you're obviously not messing with either of our minds.”

“I really don't think they're going to care. People are afraid of controllers. If you want to tell a terrifying story, make sure it has a controller in it. No one is going to listen. Whether I found out all innocently while trying to help you with after-effects isn't going to matter. What I've done or intend to do isn't going to matter. No one will listen past the word 'controller'.” She bit her lip, feeling her voice sliding into siren compulsion register. She could keep the psychic aspect locked down firmly, that was always an early lesson for sirens here; controlling her voice was harder, though possible, but it was probably best if she said as little as possible right now. If her voice was trying to change, though, then she was almost certainly having the normal siren reaction to feeling stressed and threatened, and if she let it go, this conversation would end extremely quickly.

“In less than half a year, you're going to graduate and they're going to have you swear the Oath under truthspell, and the telepath version specifically includes not using any controller abilities. You'll never get through it without being caught, and then they have more grounds to be suspicious because you'd been hiding it for months. They might even catch on before then, some of your teachers are smart and observant. If you go to them now, practically as soon as you know, then you aren't hiding anything at all. They can't possibly be unfair enough to condemn one of their own students for asking them for help in dealing with a new gift that just manifested fully. The College isn't supposed to just teach us, it's supposed to help us find what we're best at and strengthen that so we can make the best use of it.” He joined her on the bed, and slid an arm around her to draw her against him; she huddled close, wishing desperately that she could find any comfort or safety in it. “There's nothing wrong with your mind, you're a good person who wouldn't hurt anyone. We can make them see that. But it's going to work better if you tell them voluntarily instead of them finding out.”

*I can't tell them. I can't let anyone else find out. Ever.*

He glanced down, briefly puzzled by the switch from vocal to mental, but he knew enough about sirens that she could see him figure it out within a couple of heartbeats.

*I think that's a very bad idea.*

*I need to think about what to do. I don't think there are going to be any easy answers for this. I need time to decide.*

Matt sighed. *All right. But you don't have forever. I really don't think you can hide that through taking the Oath. You aren't facing this alone. I'm right here beside you, no matter what.*

*I know.* It wasn't his fault she was a controller, or even his fault she'd found out. It would have surfaced anyway, sooner or later, and how could she not have tried everything she could to help stand off a particularly uncomfortable bout of after-effects after one of his less-sympathetic teachers put him through an especially gruelling workout? That she'd been able to do far more than she should have hadn't even really registered at the time, all her attention on Matt. Only afterwards had they both realized what she'd done.

*And I'm not afraid of you. Not now. Not ever.*

Then he was going to be the only one.

Because right now, of the two people who knew what she was, one of them was deathly afraid.

* * *

Shimai waited until Matt fell asleep, and as long afterwards as she could bear to, before using the kind of simple projection that many telepaths could do to push him deeper. He didn't wake while she squirmed carefully out of his arms and found her clothes.

She couldn't stay here.

Over and over, every time they were alone, they kept fighting over the same subject, with no ground between where they could find a compromise and neither prepared to back down. He was afraid for her safety, she knew that, knew he was trying his best, but she just didn't dare let the Assembly find out that her very existence broke the Oath every telepath and sorcerer and lifewitch had to take. And, eventually, Matt was going to graduate and take that same Oath, and then what?

She dared not wait any longer. Though it was fear for her behind it, not malice, the fact remained that Matt had cornered her. “You have to tell them before they find out and can accuse you of hiding. And if you won't, then I'll do it on your behalf and tell them you wanted to but were afraid to. It's not as good, but it's better than the alternatives.”

To stop him, she'd have to destroy several ninedays of his memories, which she was fairly certain she could do but cringed from. How could she possibly do that to him?

It might be just as well. She'd been paralysed by her own fear—fear of being caught and accused of abusing her unwelcome gift, fear of abandoning Matt and her education and any hope for a future, fear whether they might be right and she would turn into a monster eventually. She didn't have Matt's faith in right and justice; in her experience, they were less powerful than fear and ignorance. Would they kill her? Would they Blind her, violently stripping her of her telepathy, at best leaving her locked in herself, at worst destroying substantial parts of her mind in the process?

She gathered up everything of hers that was here in Matt and Brylain's room, and cleaned the red hairs out of Matt's brush, leaving nothing that could be used to track her. She needed to be quick, Brylain might stay with his lover all night or might be back to sleep here and she didn't want to answer questions.

There was nothing she could do about the bedding where she so often slept, with Matt currently still asleep in it, but she could hope no one thought of that until after it no longer bore traces of her. Maybe Matt would have the sense to do one last thing for her and dump it in the laundry chute before anyone else realized she was gone.

She leaned down to kiss him, even knowing he'd never know. Was he going to think she'd run away from him, and not from the impossible trap she'd been dropped into when her gift showed itself? Was he going to hate her for choosing flight over the path he was so adamantly certain about?

With the campus active day and night, there was nothing unusual about going back to the girls' dorm at this hour. From the corridor, she reached inside to make sure Fala was asleep and would stay asleep, before opening the door.

Everything that was her own, she shoved into the simple pack she'd arrived here with. She stripped her bed and took it all to the laundry chute in the corridor, gathered up her books from class and made a trip to the library to replace them with the others. By the time anyone thought to check, any sense of her on them would be diluted and overwhelmed by the matching books on either side, all of them handled by many students over the years.

Back in her room, she did a last check to make sure nothing could be used to track her magically. Anti-scrying charms existed, and she'd have to acquire one somehow, as quickly as possible; she wasn't going to stay free long as a renegade if she could be found that way. There were other things she'd need, essentials for survival on the road that one way or another she had to have. There were enough siren-blood in the North that if she could keep from drawing attention to herself, changed her name and tried not to act identifiably like Shimai, she should be all right.

She'd be alive, anyway, and that was something.

She'd have liked to leave Fala a note, some way to tell her how much her friendship mattered to her, but that could be used as a focus for scrying, so she dared not. Maybe Matt would tell her. He knew. Unless, of course, Matt was so wrapped up in feeling hurt and betrayed that he didn't think of it. Either way, there was nothing she could do.

She slung her pack on her shoulder and left the room, left the girls' dormitory, and left the College campus walking northwards.

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