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No Jury Will Hear This Thesis

Chapter Text

It’s a beautiful day.

The season is comfortably warm, a suspended moment between the sweltering heat of the summer and the winter’s cold, not yet caught by the fog and rain.

On any other day, Dean would have enjoyed the walk to the University.

“I hope I did well enough to be accepted,” Dean says.

“I don’t see why you wouldn’t be”, Victoria answers. “You said it yourself, you did well on the tests.”

Not as good as you, Dean doesn’t say. It feels too petty, too spiteful, no matter how true it is. Victoria is far better at alchemy than he is, and in all likelihood, than he ever will be.

“I suppose I will be fixed soon enough,” Dean says. “We’re there.”

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It isn't the first time Dean walks through the University's doors, but he hasn't quite gotten used to it yet, and depending on what today brings, he might never get the chance.

The doors are tall, reaching high over his head, and higher yet the stone and the towers, higher than anything Dean has ever seen, save the highest tower of the castle of the King.

The hall of the University is two stories high, and Dean and Victoria got there early enough there is barely anyone. There are words carved, golden, into the marble floor, but the passage of people and time has long made them unreadable.

He tries not to look at the dragon bones.

The admissions are displayed on wooden panels strapped against the walls. Names, and one of two words: admitted and refused.

Admitted, beside Dean's name.

Refused, beside Victoria's.

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It makes no sense.

“It has to be a mistake”, Dean says.

“It’s fine,” Victoria says. “I probably just… Didn’t do as well as I thought I did. It’s fine. It happens.”

It is very obviously not fine.

“I don’t believe it,” Dean says. “I don’t believe for one second that I passed the test and you didn’t. There has to be a mistake somewhere. Maybe your results got switched with someone else’s.”

“We don’t know that,” Victoria says, and she’s wrong, Dean is sure of it, but she’s right, they don’t have any proof, and all his certainty won’t get her admitted.

“My parents know the dean,” he says. “Maybe we could look at your results? See if you did fail, or if there was a mix up somewhere.”

It doesn’t cost them anything to try.

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"Don't be ridiculous, Dean," his father says. "It would be a waste of my time.”

"You know how good Victoria is at understanding alchemy," Dean says, because he knows appealing to fairness or kindness will not sway his father. "She would do great at the University. Wouldn't it be good to have a promising student in our favor? We don't have to worry about Gramme anymore, it would be an investment on the future.”

"I have no doubt that Miss Dallon did not fail her test,” his father says. “That isn't the point. She's a nobody, from a family of nobodies. It doesn't matter how good she is.”

Dean feels something close in his throat , fall down deep inside his guts, and he wants to protest, to deny, but his father continues, merciless.

"They were never going to accept her."

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Dean tells Victoria what his father said.

It’s not easy, telling her. It’s not easier when she doesn’t believe it. It’s not easier, when he’s not sure he believes it himself.

Mistakes happen. The Dean, the professors… They are only humans, after all. Mistakes happen.

Dean worked hard, to be admitted. It wasn’t… It wasn’t just his name on the parchment that opened the door to him. He earned it.

They go back to the University’s hall, back under the dragon’s bones, back to the wooden panels hanging from the walls, and they look at the names. They count them, the accepted and the refused, and how many of the first Dean recognizes as children of the Court, and how many of the second he doesn’t, and…

He doesn’t like what he sees.

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Dean doesn't like the University as much as he thought he would.

He’s getting used to the high ceilings, to the great stairs and the marble floors. They're not all that different from the Court, and as much as he never liked going there, it's still something he knows how to deal with.

Dean hates the dragon's bones, and the jars in the Life Library, full of dead things in clear liquid.

He goes to his classes, listens to the professors and the facts and the theories, to the things known and left to know, and hates how much Victoria would love it, and the emptiness of her absence by his side.

She thinks it's the dean's fault. That he's biased, or something, that it explains the pattern on the admission boards, that they just need to prove it and then things will be fine.

All Dean knows is that she should be there.

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About two months after the admissions, Dean manages to smuggle Victoria into one of the University's libraries.

It isn't enough, of course. It can't be enough, can't replace teachers and peers and support, but it’s something, at least.

In a corner of the library, Victoria finds the admission books.

"Some of those date back to the University's foundation,” she says, “And they go uninterrupted right up until this year. The information must write itself automatically every time someone is admitted.”

She pauses, thoughtful.

"We could use them," she says, and elaborates when Dean looks at her in askance. "There are genealogy books on the Court, and the people affiliated to them. Records. We could compare, look at who was admitted, show the changes in patterns with the current dean."

She looks hopeful, happy, happier than Dean has seen her since the news of her refusal.

"We had better get started, then," Dean says.

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They go through the books, and they were wrong. There isn't a change in the pattern of admissions, sudden or slow, with the arrival of the current dean, or the previous one, or the one before that. There isn't a change of pattern at all.

The pattern was always there.

There was always a bias in acceptances, children of the Court taken in and others left out, and maybe not all of it is malice, maybe some of it is not having learned the basics or living too far away or not having the money, but that isn't fair either.

Besides him, Victoria is gripping the edge of the table until her knuckles turn white.

Dean looks at the books of admissions, and can't hide from the truth anymore.

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“Damnation!” Victoria says, and Dean knows her enough to know there is more than just anger in that word, to recognize the frustration and disappointment underneath.

It’s not fair. It was supposed to be, and it isn’t.

What are they supposed to do now?

“Damn them,” Victoria says again, softer. “Between that and the evil dragon…”

“I don’t think she’s evil,” Dean says, even softer.

He remembers, when she came to the Court, all fangs and claws and golden wings, he was in the room when she stood before them and spoke, citing justice in defense of a knight.

She could have killed them all in a breath, and all Dean could think of was bones.

“I met him. The Wallis Knight”, Dean says. “A few times, before he got arrested. He wasn’t very nice, but I could try to send him a letter? Talk it out? If the University isn’t as good as we thought, maybe… Well. I said he wasn’t nice, but I don’t think he was a bad person either.”

Victoria smiles.

Chapter Text

"What are you thinking about?" Theresa asks as Colin removes his arm, and he feels himself be tucked under her wing, her warmth a comfort to his sore shoulder. "You've been frowning."

He sighs, taking the time to rub at the scarred skin before answering.

"The Stanfield boy,” he finally says. “I've been thinking about the Stanfield boy. And Miss Dallon, I suppose.”

Theresa shifts slightly.

“Dean?" she asks. “You agreed for him to come, is there a problem?”

“... No,” Colin says. “No, he's decent, as far as I can remember, and he didn't give me any reason to reconsider. It's more about why he's there than about his presence.”

Colin isn’t stupid, or blind. He knew, before he even applied to the University, that his skills and his smarts and his hard work would amount to nothing without the right name at the bottom of a parchment. He knows he was accepted for spilled blood and favors, for the right words in the right ears rather than for fairness.

He knew the rot was there, knew the game was rigged, and he played anyway.

“It has me reflecting back on past choices, and what they tell about me,” Colin says.

“I don't know who you were then,” Theresa says, “but I love who you are now.”

He finally let's himself relax.

“I love you too,” he says.