January 26, 2013 by Lyn
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Arnbjorg wouldn’t let go of Jovanna long enough for the Doctor to examine her, so the Doctor, bowing to what she called love, did her exam within those constraints.
“Someone healed a few things. Inexpertly, but not incorrectly.”
Jovanna nodded, and then, remembering that she could speak, coughed and did so. “Anita. A little… goblin-like girl.”
“I know Anita, or I did, once upon a time. I will have to do some repair work, but it won’t hurt. Your lungs are a bit mucky, as well.”
“Dirt.” Jovanna hid her face in Arnbjorg’s chest. “I never should have done that Working.”
“Over-exuberance in Working is a hallmark of a student. It was simply poor luck that your Working found a weakness in both the Wards and the building structure.” Caitrin patted her shoulder. “I am going to keep you on bed rest for the next two days. You may rest in your room, but I don’t want you wandering around, and I want you to rest that ankle as much as possible. I’ll have your teachers stop by over the next week to help you catch up on missed classwork, as well.”
“Yay.” She rolled her eyes, mostly out of habit. Homework actually sounded nice, after the last few days.
“Arnbjorg, if you are going to insist on carrying Jovanna, you need to take her back to her own room, and allow her to rest as much as possible. I can send someone over with meals…”
“I can cook.” Arna glared at the doctor. “I can manage to feed her properly.”
“Very well, then, I’ll give you a list. She’s had a rough few days, Arna, and you need to keep that in mind.”
“I… All right.” It was the first time Jovanna had ever seen Arna look defeated. “Can I carry her home?”
And that was the first time she’d seen Dr. Caitrin look malicious. It was a very brief look, gone practically before it arrived, but it was definitely in her eyes. “I think Luke should do that. You can spend some time with her, but you should let her get plenty of sleep, Arna.”
Jovanna got it, then. The doctor wasn’t being mean to Jovanna, she was being mean to Arna. Which meant she knew – and didn’t approve. “Doctor…” she tried. Arna wasn’t any fun when she was upset.
“It’s all right, Jovanna. Arnbjörg has had a very stressful few days as well. Not as stressful as you, I’d imagine, but she’s been very concerned. She should take the time to rest, as well.”
She’s been very concerned. Did that mean that they were out? That Arna had given herself away?
“Let me carry her.” Arna was getting stubborn.
“I don’t think you want to do that, Arnbjörg. And I know I’m not going to let you, whether or not you want to. I’ll go get Luke. You two stay there.”
She left, leaving Arna and Jovanna alone again. Arna petted Jovanna nervously. “I don’t know why she’s so angry at me. I nearly lost you. I didn’t hurt you. I didn’t make this happen… I couldn’t have stopped it.”
“Are you telling me, or yourself?” Before her Keeper could answer, Jovanna plowed on. “Arna, I know you couldn’t have stopped it. It was magic class, and I was practicing magic. It’s not like I got attacked in the halls. I Worked a mess and fell into it.”
“So why is she so angry?”
Jovanna had her guesses, but it hadn’t taken long for Dr. Caitrin to get Luke. “Jovan… Jovanna.” The short PE teacher’s wings twitched, just a little. Jovanna swallowed her own sigh.
“Does everyone know?”
“Jovanna, I delivered you, and Luke knew your father. We’ve known since before you came to this school.” Dr. Caitrin patted her shoulder. “And we have told nobody. We’ll keep your secret.”
“Thanks…” She didn’t have the nerve, yet, to ask the question she really wanted to know. Magic could heal things. It could put things back that were missing. She’d seen Dr. Caitrin’s healing magic patch up people that ought to be dead – Kendon’s intestines spilling all over the place came to mind. So could the doctor make her body match the rest of her?
Next time. She’d ask next time.
Luke coughed. “Jovanna. I’m going to carry you back to your room, then.”
“My…” Arna tried. Luke cut her off with a glare.
“To her room, Arnbjörg, and that’s where she’s going to stay.”
“But her threshold…”
“Well, since nobody knows about that, she ought to be fine. Departed gods, Arna, what are you thinking? What were you thinking?”
“I’m right here.” The complaint sounded a little weak to Jovanna’s ears, as irritated as she was. Luke and Dr. Caitrin were not helping things. “Don’t talk about me like a thing, okay?”
“Have a talk with Miss Arna here about that.” Yep, Luke was grumpy. “Not now, though. Come on.” He scooped her up as if she weighed nothing – maybe to him, she didn’t. “Arnbjörg, be useful and get the doors.”
“Yes, sir.” Oh, good, he’d pissed her Keeper off. How was that supposed to help anything?
She glared up at him. “Stop helping, okay?”
“You’re not walking on your own back to your room.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“She’s being ridiculous, you know.” He seemed concerned now, at least, instead of irritated. That seemed like a bit of an improvement.
“I know. She knows. But lots of people have girlfriends and boyfriends who are a lot more than ridiculous. Maybe you should yell at them instead?”
“Yeah.” Arna was quiet in her agreement, but she seemed a bit mollified. “Why the sudden interest in my love life?”
“Are you happy, Jovanna?”
“Me? I fell into the rabbit-hole and then, then, just when I was getting used to the talking caterpillars, I fell into the rabbit-hole again. I’m dazed, confused, malnourished, and tired. But, I mean… none of that is Arna’s fault, and Arna came and got me.”
Luke fell silent. She wondered if it was because he knew she was right, or because he thought she was wrong.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Everyone had finally stopped looking at her funny.
At first, Jovanna had thought that one or another of her secrets had come out, sometime when she was captured. Did they know about Arna? Did they know about… the other stuff? People were looking at her sideways in classes, muttering about her in the halls. Upperclassmen went out of their way to talk to her, only to, in most cases, leave again just as quickly. And those that didn’t leave quickly weren’t any clearer about their intentions than those that did.
Even her friends had been weird for a bit. That had really bugged her, Ahouva and Æowyn looking at her crooked. But it had been them that had broken it down for her, too.
“What was it like?” Æo whispered it, two weeks after Jovanna came back to classes. “They said to give you time. And I’d say we’ve been very patient, Jovanna. But we need to know: what happened? What was it like?”
Jovanna had been taken more than a little aback. “Is that what all this is about?”
“Well, yeah. Kidnapped by the monsters under the stairs. What did you think it was about, your fashion sense?”
“What’s wrong with my fashion sense?”
“Nothing, you absolutely ridiculous wonderful girl you. You have a lovely fashion sense and, if Ahouva and I can get our menfolk to cooperate, we ought to go shopping together. But you were kidnapped. By monsters. From under the stairs. What was it like?”
And Jovanna had told them, as much as she could. Boring. Boring and cold and mind-numbingly terrifying, all at once. She censored some of her fears; she didn’t explain how frightened she’d been that they’d get her pants off, or how worried she’d been every time the tiny goblin had wanted to Idu Tlacatl at her. But she had told them how scared she’d been that they would just leave her down there, and she did tell them how worried she’d been that everybody would think she was tainted, somehow, when she finally was rescued.
She couldn’t tell them, as much as she wanted to, how much she’d been worried that Arna would take the opportunity to dump her. And she couldn’t complain, as much more as she wanted to, that Arna was still being so closed-mouthed about the whole thing.
It was enough that they knew she wasn’t saying everything, and enough that they, being the wonderful friends that they were, were sympathetic instead of difficult or angry. “It could have been worse.” Only Ahouva could get away with saying that, and Jovanna just hugged her. Yeah. She could have been locked in Kendon’s room instead, and knowing nobody was going to come get her.
They spaced their questions out, a few a day, so she never felt horribly overwhelmed by the attention, and, when other people stopped by and stuck their noses in, they fended them off or just answered the questions for her. They were acting, Jovanna thought, like she wished Arna would.
That got her through the first couple weeks. After that, things had started settling back to normal. People didn’t stare at much. At least, the Ninth Cohort didn’t stare as much. On the other hand, the older three Cohorts were getting even worse.
“It’s the no-collar thing.” Æowyn tugged on her own collar. “It’s down to something like you, Shang, and Xanthia.”
“Depends on if you count Ciara.” Ahouva’s face suggested she didn’t.
“Down to… oh. Everyone else is… what about Kyle?”
“Oh, wow. What about…” She shook her head. She couldn’t think of anyone at all. “Everyone else is caught, then?” Caught. It made it sound like something unpleasant. With Arna, the “caught” part was the only part that was actually nice.
She supposed, if she was talking to Ahouva and Æowyn, she’d go with the unpleasant terms. Both of them had had their time dealing with the shitty end of Keeping.
“Everyone else. Even a couple of the Eighth are collared, and the Sixth and Seventh are still hungry and looking for prey.” Being with Fafnir had not improved Æowyn’s melodramatic streak.
“So… you’re saying the reason Calvin is looking at me like a freak…”
“Is because he’d like to eat you. Well, probably not literally. If it was Jabez, that might be different.”
“Æo, you’re not being reassuring.”
“I’m not actually trying to be reassuring. Jovanna, you’ve done okay so far, but people are doubling down. And with the monsters in the halls – and everywhere else! – people are acting pretty freaky. You’ve got to be careful. And you’ve got to start thinking about it.”
“Thinking about…?” She’d lost the train of conversation somewhere.
“Thinking about getting a Keeper.” Ahouva helpfully shoved her back onto the tracks. Right into an oncoming freight train.
“A what who now?”
“Well, really. If you’re going to end up with one anyway – and, unless you want to challenge someone like Ciara did…” Ahouva paused to look thoughtful. “You know, there’s a few guys that are free that you could do that with. Sylvanus is nice, isn’t he, Æo?”
“Yeahhhh, but I think Fafnir would freak out if someone challenged someone in his crew. And Jaelie might kill her in her sleep, and, really, we don’t want someone killing Jovanna in her sleep.”
No, they didn’t.
“So, probably not him. Maybe a her? Ellen? But if you’re not going to challenge someone, you should probably think about finding a Keeper you can stand and agreeing on some terms.” Ahouva tugged on her own collar thoughtfully. “Having a Keeper you can get along with, whose company you really enjoy, it makes all the difference.”
“You’ll have to take Ahouva’s word on that one.” Æowyn sighed. “But you’re in a place where you can pull it off. You really should try, before someone makes up your mind for you, the way they did for us.”
“But…” She touched her neck, where there wasn’t any collar. People thought she was free. People thought she was fair game. But I’m not. But I’m already Kept. She couldn’t say any of it. She winced as she ran against the orders, and wondered what she could say. “What if… what if I don’t like anyone?”
“Well, like we said, there’s the option that someone you don’t like will make up your mind for you.”
“It’s not Hell Night anymore, and I know what’s going on. It’s not like someone’s going to just ambush me and convince me to say the words.” And I don’t think the words would do any good, either.
“They don’t have to convince you if they have the right Words. And if they don’t… what about torture?”
“Torture? Æo, are you serious? You’re talking like … physical torture?”
“Or, again, the right Words. Use the right things and it wouldn’t even leave a mark.”
“You can be a bit creepy, you know that?”
“I know.” She smiled, showing fangs. “So I’ve been told. Listen, Jovanna, you were at the challenge. You saw what Basalt and Kendon and Jeremiah did to each other. People here are violent, and the ones that don’t have Kept and still need them are just going to get worse and worse as it gets closer to potential graduation time. Why risk getting pushed?”
“So I should jump?”
Ahouva pursed her lips and said nothing. Æo said it for her. “You’re not better than us, you know, just because you haven’t gotten collared.”
“I didn’t say that! That’s not what I was thinking?”
“Then tell us what you are thinking, Jo, ’cause it’s getting hard to understand why you don’t just, yeah, jump.”
Jo sighed. “I can’t explain it. I’m sorry.”
Maybe if she took their arguments to Arna, she could get a collar. Maybe that would help. Monday, January 12, 2004
She’d tried three times to talk to Arna about the collar, and three times she’d been shot down. After that, Jovanna had decided she was just going to have to come u with another method of handling things.
She’d also decided it was entirely possible that Æowyn and Ahouva didn’t know what they were talking about. Nobody had bothered her. Nobody had asked her on a date. People had stared a little, of course, but Jovanna chose to believe that that had to do mostly with her fashion sense and not so much with any interest in her as a potential target.
She walked slowly home from her magic class, wondering if today would be one of those days when Arna decided to “just happen by” when she was out in the hall. There had, at least, been more of those recently.
“Hey, pretty lady.”
That… was not Arna. Jovanna turned around slowly while her hand dropped into her purse. She had a can of pepper spray in there, and, if that didn’t deter, a second mix that involved hawthorn sap and a few other choice poisons. She wasn’t going to risk getting locked in someone’s room again.
“I’m just heading back to my room.” She spoke levelly and carefully. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“I’m sure you don’t.” Accalon, that was his name. He was shorter than she was – there were a lot of guys who were – and prettier, which she liked to think most guys weren’t. “I don’t want any trouble either. I’m just saying hello.”
“Um.” Jovanna tried to get a wall at her back. “Well, then, hello. I’ve, ah, got to get to my room…”
He was moving closer. “Let me walk you to your room, then?”
Oh, that would go over badly. And then he’d know exactly where she lived. “I’m really okay…”
“The halls aren’t safe.” He frowned, as if looking very worried at her. Something about him was compelling, disturbingly convincing. She wanted to put her hand on his arm and reassure him that she was really fine, thanks. “You shouldn’t be out alone. Anything could happen.”
“I guess you can walk me to the edge of my pod.”
He smirked gently at her. “Then I’ll walk you to the end of the block, and be sure your mother doesn’t see me. Relax, Jovanna. I’m not out to hurt you.”
“I believe you.” Against her better judgment, she offered him her hand. “It’s just that Ahouva and Æowyn have been talking in both ears at me lately, about how it’s not safe. About how there’s all these creeps that are out to get me, you know?”
“I do know. You, and Xaviera, and Shang. And many of the Eighth Cohort as well.” He walked casually, as if he had all the time in the world. Jovanna wished he’d move faster. “It’s always like that. But this year, everyone’s a little more on edge, a little more uncomfortable. The trouble in the basement has them all worried.”
Jovanna shuddered. “It should. Those people are insane.”
“So you were down there.”
“I was… oh, yeah.” She folded her arms over her chest and tried not to shiver. “Yeah. For days.”
“How did you get out?”
She pressed her lips together and tried not to swear at Arna-in-her-head. “I don’t remember,” she lied.
“It must have been awfully traumatic.”
She stared at him. “What sort of thing is that to say to someone? I mean, seriously, ask, already, but if you’re worried that I went through trauma – which I did, thanks – why say that? Are you <i>trying</i> to make me cry?”
“Am I… no!” He looked more than a little taken aback, which Jovanna found interesting. “No, of course not. I was trying to be sympathetic.”
“You know… your technique might need a little work.” She wasn’t feeling all that charitable.
“Obviously so. Would you rather I tried the more common tactic of pushing you up against a wall and demanding things from you?”
“Would I… no. Is that what this is about?”
“Well, yes.” He didn’t even look ashamed, or even as if he thought he should think about being ashamed. “I want you. I figured being nice was the easier way to get you.”
“Well… that’s blunt.” She took a step backwards. “I guess I ought to be blunt, too. You can’t have me.”
“Somebody’s going to.” He stepped in closer. “Why not me? I’m nice.”
“You’re stalking me.”
“I’m being honest about it.” He took another step closer. “You’re going to say that counts for nothing?”
“No, no, that counts for something. It’s just…” She swallowed hard. She couldn’t say any of the things she wanted to say, and the rest she just wouldn’t. “I like girls.”
“Around here, that only matters for so much.” He leaned forward, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Wouldn’t you rather have a Keeper who took the time to be polite?”
“Unfortunately…” Arna’s voice had never been so welcome. “For you, and perhaps for her, she already has a Keeper. You’re barking up a fenced tree, Accalon.”
“Well, then.” He bowed, and exited, leaving Jovanna staring at her Keeper in confusion.
This story was written in response to Jelbi’s donation and request for more Arna & Jo
For every $5US donated, I will write 300 words on the character or situation of your choice. In addition, every donation will bring you to a small snippet of story – a new snippet every Wednesday! Want more?