December 2, 2012 by Lyn
Friday, November 21, 2003
“Are you going home for Thanksgiving?”
By this point in his school career, Ambrose thought everyone had asked him that question enough times to know the answer.
“I am home.”
It was the only answer he had to that question, and one that, he knew, made him sound like those inveterate hall monsters like Rozen or the Thorne Girls.
“Yeah? Turkey and mashed potatoes come with this home?”
He glanced up at the speaker, their tone catching his attention enough to pull him out of his seasonal funk. Jovanna, poor kid. Had it a lot rougher than Ambrose did, that was for sure. He wondered if the mystery Keeper knew that the collar showed, even without a physical collar. Whoever they were, they were lucky most of the current crop of empaths couldn’t see past the end of their own noses.
“I could,” he agreed. “What about you? Heading home?”
“No. I…” The kid flapped a hand in a gesture that was probably supposed to be casual lack of concern but looked like frustrated pain to Ambrose’s eyes. “I’m staying, I guess.”
“It gets easier after a while.” Ambrose wasn’t sure, at first, which he was talking about. “I mean, being without family for the holidays get smoother,” he clarified, for himself and the trying-not-to-be-distressed Jovanna. “I don’t think it should. But I don’t really talk to my family anymore.”
“Not at all?” Jovanna frowned. “That’s got to suck.”
“We never really got along. My dad is sort of an ass.” He’d thought about looking him up, actually, finding out if the jerk was even still alive. But that would lead to explanations the forty-something-year-old Ambrose wasn’t sure he wanted to give.
“Yeah. My dad isn’t all that fun. My mom is worse, actually. But I had friends back home. I mean, I have friends here, I guess, but… collars, you know.”
“I know. Collars make everything more complicated.”
“Yeah? You wore one?”
For longer than you can imagine, kid. “Yeah, I did my time. Most people here have.”
“Yeah?” That seemed to catch Jovanna’s attention. “Do you think…?”
“Probably.” He answered the question that wasn’t quite asked before he could stop himself. “The ones I know who weren’t, all have Kept.”
The kid flinched, knees in that ruffly hippy skirt going to chin. “I…”
“Look. I don’t know who your Keeper is.” Ambrose made sure his voice was very quiet. “I’m not that good. But anyone with a scrap of empathy and the common sense to use it – which is at the very least me, and maybe one Ninth Cohort – can see that you’re Owned. It hangs around your shoulders like a pall, kid-“
“Jovanna.” He wondered what name was on the birth certificate, and what it said about the child. “But… if your Keeper’s not going to spend Thanksgiving with you, why don’t you come hang out in my suite?”
“Look, I promise you I’m not trying to get in your skirt.” Although Jovanna was darker than most of his kids, it was a possibility.
Saturday, November 22, 2003
“Hey, Birdbrain, I was wondering if we could talk over the… oh.” Mike VanderLinden stood cautiously in the door to Luke’s office, his face a study of what an empath with no social grace looked like. “I can come back later.”
“Come on in, Tree-feet. And close the door.” Luke pushed the bottle and the glass to one side.
Luke was startled at the laugh that came out of his mouth. He hadn’t believed he was in a laughable mood. “You know, with everything else going on… yeah.”
“Again. Mike, you make her sound like a scarlet harlot.”
“Enough. That’s not what matters. She had an arrangement with Regine, same as many of us did. Look at Bel, at Indigo, Lolly…”
“Ty, Mark. I know.” Mike perched in a chair and frowned at Luke. “I know, airhead. And you’ve got Doug. And Aleron.”
“And I don’t really have Aleron, because…” Because he’d been a moron.
“He’ll be here in a year or two. And then, what can she do? Then he’s ours.”
Luke looked at his monitors. The basement level was traced with alarms now, but it didn’t stop people who could walk through walls. “This isn’t exactly the safest place in the world to bring your kids right now.”
“Even I have noticed that. What are we going to do, Luca?” It bode to how stressed Mike was, that he used Luke’s given name.
“I can’t do anything when I can’t find them.” He was more frustrated about that than he cared to admit. “And whatever Workings they’re using, I still can’t get down to the fourth floor.” He reached for his drink, only to have Mike Work it further away. “Damnit, Flower-Petal.”
“I promised my daughter.”
“Damnit, Meckil !”
“Damnit, Luca.” She sat down on his desk. “We can’t do anything about the big problems right now. So we worry about the little problems. Belfreja-”
“Of all your children, Mike, Bel is not a problem.”
“I’d say that’s selling Indigo a little short.”
“I note you didn’t name any of the others.”
“Little problems. So. The woman.”
“Says he doesn’t want to see me. He doesn’t want anything to do with his old man.”
“Do you think she’s telling the truth?”
“I don’t know. She never lied to me, before.”
“And then she lied to you a lot, during. Bird, it’ll be fine.”
“Because he’ll be coming here? Into this mess we’ve made of our school?”
“Okay, Birdie, there’s taking fault and then there’s being a martyr. And you, my oldest friend, are being a stupid martyr right now.”
“I should punch you for that.”
“You should. But you won’t, because you’ve put too much poison in your system. You’ve have to burn it out before you could hit me, and by then I’d have dodged. Look, we didn’t make this problem on our own.”
“You can’t put it all on Regine’s shoulders, Tree-flower. We did this with her.”
“And the problem isn’t the school right now. The problem is Them.”
Luke sighed. “And we made them.”
“No. They made them. We helped, true, but they made their choices.” Mike patted Luke’s shoulder, and, for the moment, Luke didn’t mind. “And those, my friend, are the choices we have to live with.”
“This is not how things are typically done.”
Sylvia looked immensely displeased, considering that nobody was directly altering her plans. Bel smiled cheerfully and tried not to let it get to her.
“Porter isn’t how things are typically done, either, and neither am I.” She gestured at herself as if something in her hair or her dress would exemplify that. “And I asked, and that’s what he wanted.”
“But we were to spend the holidays as a crew.”
“There are lots of holidays. I’d like my parents to meet Porter, before.”
She didn’t finish that sentence. There were a lot of ways you could end a sentence like that, but in Addergoole, there was only one way that really mattered. And even incomplete, it made Sylvia frown more deeply.
“This is quite irregular.”
“I don’t know.” Bel was determined to keep a smile on her face. “This is how my family does things every Thanksgiving.”
“But…” Under the frown, Bel realized, the girl was about to cry. She took some little pity on her.
“Hey, Sylvia, Arundel and Timora are staying, and Gar is, too, right? We can come back a day early, and have leftovers together.”
For a moment, she thought the older girl was going to throw her peace offering in her face. And she nearly did. “I was led to understand that your family lived here.”
“My biological mother, yes. Not my family.” She wondered at the incomprehension on Sylvia’s face. “The people who raised me, who love me?”
“That does not necessarily follow after ‘family.’” Sylvia’s normally unexpressive face shuttered down completely.
Bel, a sinking suspicion beginning to grow on her, reached out with her power, her eyes half-closing. Her Mentor and her… VanderLinden thought that, with time, she would be able to forge connections between people. Right now, she could feel them, down in her bones.
Off to the edges were her ties to family, to friends, the tie-in-Law-and-burgeoning-love to Porter. Porter’s ties to his friends and his family. Arundel’s to half the school, Timora’s thinner ties. Everyone had a web of people they were connected to, reaching out past the room, even Gar, whose ties stretched home and, surprisingly, within the school.
Aside from her Mentor, Sylvia had no ties outside this room. None. Bel barely missed putting both hands over her mouth.
“It might be for some people, but that doesn’t mean it should be. Sylvia, you and Gar are coming home with me for Thanksgiving.” Her parents wouldn’t mind. There was always room for another seat at their table.
“But who will bring the cranberry sauce?” Arundel’s complaint made the attempt at joking, but it fell a little thin.
“You two come too.” She hugged Timora close to her side in a sudden urge to hold someone. “We’ll all go. Nobody should be without family – kin, real kin – for the holidays.”
Apologies; this should have gotten posted before U.S. Thanksgiving. I blame NaNo 😉
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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