January 2, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, December 29, 2003
“Do we have to go back?”
Efrosin’s parents had been amazingly cool about Pania coming home with him for Christmas with him. Since her parents had been a bit weird about the idea of her coming home at all, much less bringing a “boyfriend” home, Pania had been grateful for the welcome.
Now, after several days of holiday, good eating, and Efrosin generally remembering to treat her like a human being instead of a pet, Pania found herself sprawled mostly-naked in her Keeper’s childhood bed.
“We do have to go back.” His hands were wandering over her flank and side lazily. Sound-dampening Workings were amazingly easy, although Pania wasn’t sure his parents would have actually cared if they’d heard sex noises coming from their son’s room. They hadn’t minded her staying in here with him, after all.
“But nobody’s jumping anyone in the halls, here.” She had orders not to talk about that where anyone else could hear, but she hadn’t taken the Working down yet. “It’s safe, it’s nice, and the food is better.”
“Mom did offer to teach you how to cook.”
“I am not the domestic sort. I will hire someone to cook for me when I get out of here. Of there.” She tugged on her necklace-collar – another thing Mr. and Mrs. MacCon hadn’t raised an eyebrow at, another thing Pania’s parents probably would have gotten huffy about. Christmases with Efrosin’s parents were almost entirely superior to Christmases with Pania’s family. “Why do we have to go back?”
“You always have reasons.”
“You did ask why.”
“It was a rhetorical complaint.”
“You’re a rhetorical complaint.”
“Now you’re just being silly.” She was giggling, almost as much as he was. “Efro, seriously, this was awesome. Why do we have to go back?”
“You threw a fit when I started to tell you.”
“I always throw fits. It’s never stopped you before.”
“It’s different.” He squished her closer to him. “I promised we’d go back. I had to, so we could leave.”
“I didn’t promise anything.” She didn’t wiggle out of his arms. It felt nice, when he wasn’t being so pushy.
“No. But, you know how it is…”
“I know, I know. I’m wearing your collar, I’m part of your luggage. Did you promise to bring your favorite shirt back, too?”
“My favorite shirt wasn’t bred-to-order for the school. I think.”
“I hate it when you bring that part up.” It made her feel more like a commodity than anything else he said. No wonder her parents didn’t want her back. She was just a product.
“I hate it when you call yourself luggage.” He wrinkled his nose in a frown. She wrinkled hers right back at him.
“You could just order me not to. Most of the time, you have absolutely no problem with that.”
“It’s different, here. And if I keep giving you orders, I might lose track eventually. And then I might give you conflicting orders…”
“You’ve done that, too.” Her head had been splitting for hours, until they’d worked it out. “It sucked. So why’s it different here?”
“Pania, can we just, please, enjoy the holiday while it lasts?”
She almost never got him to that point anymore. Pania nuzzled his chest by way of apology and then, because she felt really crappy about getting him to the pleading stage – she preferred the yelling, or the orders, to the sad face and the flat ears – she reached up and started scratching between his ears, in that spot that made his purr turn on.
It took a minute, this time. She must have really bugged him. He hadn’t seemed like he was on the edge. But his Mask was up. She lost some of the body language when he did that.
“If you call yourself luggage again, I’m going to put you in a suitcase.”
She propped herself up to look at him. He hadn’t sounded angry. His purr was still going. “I think you’d like that.” Efrosin liked any number of strange and kinky things. Pania found some of them sort of creepy, but, on the other hand, some of them were a lot of fun – and sometimes Efrosin managed to make the creepy ones end up being fun. Usually, lately.
He leered at her. “I might. I think you’d fit just fine in the biggest suitcase, too. Would you like that, Pretty Pania?”
Urg. “I don’t like it when you call me that.” He had to go and do that, didn’t he?
“But I like calling you pretty.” He ran his hand through her short-cropped hair; she’d had it done again right before they left the school. “You are pretty.”
“I am yours, too, but that doesn’t mean I like it being part of the label. ‘Pretty Pania oro’Efrosin.’ It’s a short step from there to ‘Eff’s pretty thing.’” She shrugged her shoulders uncomfortably. “We really have to go back?”
“We do… hey.” He squished her into a hug. “Pan, Panny, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing…. I mean. Nothing I want to talk about. I really hate that order, Eff.”
“I know, but if I didn’t order you to be honest with me, you’d lie to me all the time.”
“Exactly. I like being able to lie to you.” Because she was feeling a bit of pressure from the Keeping-bond and a little bit of guilt from snapping at him, yet again, she added a caveat. “I never lie to you about anything important. Just my feelings and stuff.”
“Those, my lovely lover, are important. “
“I’m not sure I like lovely lover better than Pretty Pania.”
“If I called you the queen of the universe, you’d find a reason to complain. What’s. Wrong?”
“You’re not going to let me wiggle out of this, are you?” It would be nice if he would. “And you’re not going to let us stay here, let me stay here, either?”
“I promised. I have to bring you back.” She could almost see, from the way his expression drooped, the way his ears were probably raking back under his Mask. “If I could, Pania, I would let you go off into the wild blue.”
“Even though you’d miss me?” She was fishing, fighting against a sudden press of bond-misery and, still, still stalling.
“Even though I’d miss you.” He covered her bare chest in kisses. “Because I’d miss you. Though, if I could come up with a way to not go back, I might just run away too.”
“You’re almost done. And there’s Fifi to think of.”
“Well, in the theoretical world where we could run away from Addergoole, we could take Fifi. And Reese. And the kitchen sink.”
“Reese is the kitchen sink.” Maybe she’d managed to distract him enough. Maybe he’d forgotten. “And all that, to boot.”
Efrosin grinned. “That, that it is. You’re still surprisingly cool about Reese.”
“What, the pet you had before you had me? Nothing to be jealous about. Besides, the squirrel is still in awe of you. It’s kind of cute like that.”
“Mmm. You can’t just be my girlfriend, can you?”
“I could have been your girlfriend, if you hadn’t locked a goddamned slave collar around my neck. “ She yanked at it. “So now, no, I’m your fucking property until you decide to let me go.”
“We were doing so good on this trip.” Efrosin looked like he was going to scold her, but Pania had a head of steam going and wasn’t going to stop.
“I’m your fucking pretty thing and I will be until you take this off of me and pretending any differently doesn’t make it so. All your friends know it. All the friends I used to have until you trapped me know it. Your dad knows it. So if you want me to be your fucking girlfriend, let me go. ‘Cause otherwise I’m just your blow-up doll.”
She hated tears. She hated the way they made her feel, and the helpless panic that came with them, and the way they made Efrosin get all soft and goopy, like she was some sort of weak kid, or like he couldn’t handle her crying. She hated the way they meant she’d slipped, too.
But she was crying, now, glaring at him through a faceful of stupid saltwater. “You had to…” A sob cut her off. “You had to fu-fu-fucking ask, didn’t you? You had to puuuush because ‘we were doing so well.’” She twisted her face up, mimicking him. “And see what you did?”
“Pan, Panny…” There he was, getting that face, like he was afraid to touch her, afraid she was going to break or melt or explode or something. “What…” He wasn’t stupid, her Keeper, even if he was a dork most of the time. “Okay, who’s been saying this shit to you? Who’s been feeding you this crap?”
Efrosin angry was a new one. It almost startled her out of her tears. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It fucking matters if I say it does, Pania. And I am saying, tell me who’s been saying shit like this to you.”
Even with the order, she tried to avoid it. “They’re just saying the truth, Eff. They’re just saying the same shit you’ve said, but with less candy-coating.”
“Calling a cherry pit ‘a cherry without the candy coating’ doesn’t make it so, Pan.”
“So you’re saying the seed of the truth is in that? I mean, I knew that already. I’m your possession. Your Belonging. The Law says so. Why do you keep pretending it’s something different? Reese knows better.”
“Don’t bring Reese into this!”
“Why not?” He was starting to get red in the cheeks. She really ought to stop. But she was crying, damn it, and if she was going to cry, he was going to be hurting too. “Why not? He was such a better Kept for you anyway. You were happier with the squirrel than you ever were with me. Reese this, Reese that, why can’t I bring up Reese?”
“Because I said so, damnit!”
The voice stopped them both in their tracks. Efrosin looked up first; Pania didn’t really want to acknowledge what she already knew.
“Dad? But I…”
“Give your old man some credit, would you? The silence Working is clever, but your mother started to worry, so I snuck in a work-around. No, son, we did not listen to you two having sex.”
Pania snuck a look, now. Yes, Efrosin’s dad was really standing in the doorway. Yes, he was smirking a bit at Efrosin. No, he didn’t look at all angry. He didn’t sound angry, either.
“How can we help you, Mr. MacCon?” She tried to sound polite. Polite wasn’t really her strong suit, but they were in the man’s house, and his son was Pania’s Keeper.
“Here.” He tossed a robe at her. “That’s a good start. Son, put some pants on.” He pulled up Efrosin’s computer chair and sat down, while the two of them scrambled to get decent. “Okay, that’s a start. Now, Pania, my son is a good boy. He tries hard. But he’s still a teenaged boy, and that means sometimes he’s a moron.”
“Eff, shush, the grown-ups are talking.”
“Dad, you’re not seriously calling her a grown-up and me not?”
“So far she’s exhibited some adult traits. That’s more than I can say for you. And I doubt it has anything to do with the collar around her neck, because I can’t see you managing to order her to be more mature than you are.”
“Would that even work?” Pania was wondering, more, how Efrosin’s father knew what the collar meant, but, then again, he’d known about Workings. Collars sort of went along with that, didn’t they? “I mean, ordering me to be mature?”
“As I recall, it would make you do your best to act mature as you understood it, or, if you were either very clever or very neurotic, as you understood Efrosin understands it. Since he really has no understanding of the concept-”
“-Eff, I was serious. Let me talk to Pania for a minute before you make a bigger hash of this than you already have, all right?”
“Dad…” He sat back on his bed in a sulk, and Mr. MacCon continued.
“Since Efrosin has no understanding of maturity, this would eventually probably cause you to have a neurotic breakdown trying to obey bad orders. Which, generally, is at least one thing that, as far as I’ve noticed over the last three years, Efrosin does not appear to be guilty of. Small blessings, I suppose. Now, as I was saying… he does try. As far as I can guess these things – and his mother assured me I’m right on this one – he does genuinely care about you. But he’s a boy, and wouldn’t think to use an Idu Hugr if his life depended on it.”
Pania squirmed. “I know,” she admitted. “It makes him a lot easier to deal with. ‘Cause if he could figure out what I was feeling, then I wouldn’t have any space inside my own head at all.”
“I know. It’s never easy, under the collar, and I don’t think my son’s spent any time there at all, so he couldn’t really empathize. But you have to realize – he’s supposed to be taking care of your emotional well-being. And if your pride keeps you from wanting to share when you’re hurt, maybe think of it this way – you’re helping him learn how to be a better Keeper in the future. For you, and for his next Kept.”
“Dad, I’m right here.”
“So start. Paying. Attention.” Mr. MacCon rapped his knuckled lightly against the side of Efrosin’s head. “If I can tell there’s a problem, when I’ve only just met your lovely lady, you ought to be able to figure it out, too.”
“She hates being Kept. Everyone does at first. Some people never stop hating it.”
“Yeah.” Pania felt like she had to say something. Mr. MacCon had been good for diversion, but now he was way too close to the meat of it. “Most of my class has collars on, and most of them, if they’re allowed to, they complain. I mean, a couple people seem to like it, but nobody likes getting tricked into it, trapped into it.” She paused. “You didn’t tell me not to say that, Eff.”
“My folks probably would have figured it out anyway.” Eff shrugged. “Dad seems to know everything.”
“Parents are supposed to, I think. They know about…?”
“Yeah. That was pretty obvious when I brought Reese home last Christmas.”
“Nice boy. Spoiled rotten, though. You do like to spoil your Kept and neglect them at the same time, son.”
“I… wait, what. Who’s neglecting whom?”
“He does have a point.” Pania wasn’t used to feeling disloyal for teasing her Keeper, but maybe it was because she was ganging up on him with his dad.
“How do I neglect you?”
“I don’t really mind. I mean, it gives me more space in my own head and stuff.” She shrugged.
“But he’s supposed to be protecting you.”
“It’s not like anybody hurts me. It’s not like I can’t protect myself.” She had a feeling her protests were falling on deaf ears.
“Pania, if you will take some advice from an old man who’s had his time under the collar? However he got you there, Eff agreed by Owning you to protect you, cherish you, and look out for your well-being. You ‘agreed,’ even if you didn’t meant to, to obey him and be subordinate to his will. Sound about right?”
“Especially the ‘even if I didn’t mean to’ part.” She nodded dryly. “Wait, cherish me?”
“Cherish you. He’s not so good at that part, I’d bet. And, Pania, as good at you are at changing the subject, he needs to know what’s going on.”
“Why?” She was feeling more and more mulish. “It’s not like he’s going to change anything. I’m still his little pet. His toy, his bitch.”
“No!” Efrosin’s anger pushed her back across the bed. “No, departed fucking gods, Pania. Aphrodite’s tits, why would you think that?”
“It’s…” She didn’t want to go there. She clamped her mouth shut and looked away from both of them.
“Obviously because someone took it upon themselves to ‘explain’ things to her. In either their twisted point of view, or the darkest point of view they could manage. Either to hurt her, or to hurt you. Honestly, Efrosin, how have you survived three years at that school?”
“Practice?” Eff had the grace to look embarrassed. “Panny, who’s been telling you this shit?”
Shit wasn’t making her feel any better, but complaining about that right now would just drag this out. “Why does it matter? Look, Eff, everyone at school has been more than helpful in explaining how things work. Your freaking sister even -”
“I’ll explain the sister thing later, okay, Dad?”
“No need, son.”
Pania closed her mouth and looked between the two of them.
“Sorry, sorry, Panny. What did Shiva say to you? I’ll kick her ass if I have to.”
Pania stifled a laugh that might have turned out a little bit hysterical.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get my ass kicked, but I’ll try to kick her ass for you.”
“No, Shiva wasn’t bad. She explained some things, from when she was Kept, from the people she Kept, too. Suggested I not bite too much if it turned out I was poisonous.”
“Thankfully, you’re not. So… let me guess. Assholes like Tigg and Calvin and Curry?”
“Not Tigg.” Not since Tigg had gotten Kept, at least.
“Damnit. All right – Dad, I can handle this. I mean… Pania, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because they’re right. Even you said it, even Arnbjörg said it. I’m property. Owned.”
“I always liked Kept better.”
“Dad…. me, too.” Eff looked a little surprised. Pania felt a little smile coming to her mouth. “Okay, yeah. Because it’s about what the word really means, right?”
“I had to say I was yours to get this collar.”
“Yeah, but that’s imperfect translation of the magic. I always wondered if we did it in the Old Tongue if it would be stronger.”
“Eff, that sounds really dirty, and your dad is here.”
“Now you’re just being difficult.” She hated that – when he frowned at her, complained about her. She hated how it made her feel, like she was a dirty, naughty child who ought to be sitting in a corner.
“No,” she countered. She was tired of being upset, and she was getting angrier and angrier about it. “No. You’re being obtuse and pretending me not knowing what the hell you’re talking about is being difficult, when it’s just being new and nobody but Calvin and your sister tell me anything. What the hell is the Old Tongue?”
“Oh.” He had the grace to look abashed, at least. “Sorry. I thought your Mentor would have told you.”
“Does yours come out and volunteer stuff? Because Professor Solomon is very forthcoming when I ask questions, but I can’t see that coming up.”
“Ah. Um. Not really, no. All right. I’m sorry, Panny.” He scratched behind her ear idly. Pania sighed, and leaned into the scratching, trying to ignore Mr. MacCon’s presence. It felt good, and she could use a bit of that. “The Old Tongue is the language the fae speak, or spoke. The Laws, and most of the other stuff we do – the Words, the names for things – are all in Old Tongue.”
“Idu a’Iduþin.” His father made it sound smooth. “The word in Old Tongue for Old Tongue. But I think what Efrosin is trying to get around to –“
“Dad, come on. Can you at least let me try?”
“Try on, Eff.”
“Right. Okay, got it. So the Old Tongue is where all of this stuff comes from, and, while we call it Belonging or being Kept in English, what it is in Old Tongue is where I try to get my idea from. The word for Kept there-”
“Thanks, Dad. Oronta Apestlaei, it means, ‘being under the aegis of another’s Name,’” so you’re that person’s responsibility. Being Kept means you’re protected by your Keeper, your Apestla, that everything you do and everything you have is their responsibility.” He tugged a blanket over her shoulders. “Covered. Fed. Sheltered. Comforted. Cherished.”
“That’s a lot different from Owned.” The blanket felt nice. The warmth of his arm over the blanket felt nicer. But the one she was trying hardest not to think about was how good it felt to be protected, cherished, and sheltered by him.
“It is. It’s a whole lot different. It’s all about taking you on as part of my house, part of my Name – I mean, if I had a Name yet. But the concept holds. And it’s why the bond enforced obedience – not just so I can mess with you.”
“Though you like that part best.” She tried to make the teasing light. She really could use some light.
“Well, I won’t deny I like it a bit. But, I mean, you’ve met Reese. Imagine if I was responsible for everything that squirrel did, and had no way to stop the … wilder stuff?”
She cringed. “Okay, you make a good point. That could get pretty bad pretty fast, couldn’t it?”
“Nail on the head.”
“Not that there aren’t hundreds of ways for Kept to abuse their position, of course.” Mr. MacCon sounded far too cheerful about that. “Possibly thousands. I can give you a few pointers, if you like.”
“Dad!” Efrosin actually stood up at that one. Though his Mask was still up, Pania could see his tail lashing in her mind’s eye. “Come on. Do you have to do this?”
“Have to?” Efrosin’s dad, Pania noted, had dimples. Neat. “No. But it’s a lot of fun. And I didn’t, with Reese, now did I?”
“No.” He sat back down with a thump, shaking the bed. “No. Why not?”
“Well, for one, Reese wasn’t crying in our bathroom. For another, Reese, while a very nice… squirrel…. was not the squirrel I might want as a squirrel-in-law some day.”
Pania gulped. She wasn’t sure she liked Efrosin enough to think about another year, a baby (well, she had to think about the baby, but she didn’t have to want to), or a nice summer vacation with him, much less becoming his dad’s Pan-in-Law.
Efrosin didn’t seem sure he liked the idea either, which made her stomach do an entirely different set of whirligigs. “Is it because Reese is…. squirrel?”
“Don’t be stupid.” She wondered if his father had a tail. That nostril-flare didn’t quite look human. “No. It was because Reese was Reese. Flighty, obnoxious, and prone to tantrums. I’ve known people like that, son. I’ve dated people like that. Some of them outgrow it – which is the time to think about dating them. Because some of them never do.”
He shrugged, as it to break the suddenly-serious mood. “You didn’t have the misfortune of meeting my first wife, but well. Learn from my mistakes, if you can.” He reached over and very gently patted Pania’s shoulder. “Both of you. Eff, learn to ask. Seriously, son. You’re not a mind-reader, or, if you are, it’d rude to do it. Ask the girl what’s going on once in a while. Pania. Ask. You won’t always know what he really wants, for one. And for another, even if you do, I’m sure you don’t have a problem arguing when he tells you what to do.”
They both laughed at that, although not very comfortably. The last time she’d actually argued flat-out with an order… Pania didn’t want to think about that one. She wondered if Mc. MacCon knew that his son had a temper like a tomcat.
“And Eff – when she argues, ask her why. Look, you’re good kids. You can make it through this without breaking anything, okay?”
“Furniture doesn’t count. Especially if one of you is any good at Jasfe and Unutu. And if you’re not, I am. Look. “ He leaned forward on his hands and looked them both in the eyes for a moment. And then he leaned back and sighed, his smile a bit rueful.
“Your mom wants grandkids, Eff, try to get along with one of your lovers long enough for that to work out.”
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Gar hadn’t really expected Sylvia to let him go home. As much as other Kept talked to him and to each other, that much had been pretty clear – almost nobody went home for the holidays. It was like their Keepers were afraid to let go of them for that long.
On that topic, too, his collar had been less than helpful. It had told him the bond between Keeper and Kept can be make it uncomfortable for the Kept, if the Kept is too long apart from the Keeper, but not why Keepers who didn’t otherwise care about their Kept’s “comfort” would care about that.
Either way, he hadn’t been expecting her to send him home – to actually make it an order, “You will visit your family for the holidays.” He hadn’t been expecting how much he liked hanging out with his family, either, even his kid sister Fairuza. Not wanting to go back to Addergoole, that made sense. You cannot stay away, the collar informed him, nor can your parents allow you to. They made an agreement with Director Avonmorea.
That was new. Newer still was the collar bribing him: This collar will explain the details of the deal to you when you are back within Addergoole’s walls. Which wouldn’t have been enough to get him back, not really. Not even his mom and dad walking him to the airport gate would have been enough, but Sylvia had left an order and then, it seemed, ordered him to forget all about it.
He really wanted to be irritated by that. He was, to a degree. But the newest thing yet was that he actually wanted to see Sylvia. And that was irritating enough to trump his frustration at the orders.
He’d gotten himself worked up into a good angry funk by the time he got off the plane. What had she been thinking? Why did this make any sense? Had she been trying to prove that he needed her? Had she been trying to get him all worked up over her? Was this some sort of game?
That Sylvia didn’t really play games didn’t really come into the picture.
Perhaps, the collar suggested, and he snarled “stuff it” under his breath. He didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to hear anything. He didn’t want to see anyone, no matter how much he wanted to see Sylvia.
He wanted, Gar realized, to hurt something. He was tired of being pushed around. He was tired of deals and information and things nobody would tell him, of the way the Bond pushed him, the way his folks pushed him, the way this freaking school pushed. He wanted to hurt someone until they stopped pushing, one way or the other. He wanted to push back until he was given a little bit of space.
He stepped out into the airport waiting area, bristling and angry. He just wanted to push someone. He wanted to jab someone. He wanted to stab someone.
He saw Sylvia at the same time as he saw his reflection in a mirrored pillar: glowering, more than glowering, his face all pulled together. He could almost see where, under his Mask, his rock spikes were sticking out. He could feel them, the way they pulled at his skin.
And Sylvia was, beyond all reason, smiling, a cautious, hopeful expression.
Please check out recent announcements! They can be found here Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?