April 10, 2013 by Lyn
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Kheper had yet another reason to like his classes.
Boom was still grounded. “In detention,” whatever; what it amounted to was hard work whenever they weren’t in class, and house arrest whenever they weren’t either in class or doing work.
They had taken it really well at first. They all seemed to treat it like an adventure. Boom treated almost everything that way, so he hadn’t really been surprised — even cleaning water out of the basement levels could be fun for them, somehow.
(For the first week and a half, at least, the cleaning had involved a lot of monster hunting, piranha-stabbing, and so on, so it had been kind of an adventure. Kheper had been lighting all the things on fire, with the explicit permission of the staff and his Keeper. He’d surprised himself by having fun).
Now they were down to things he couldn’t do — Joss-thing repair on Uno-thing that meant “things,” fixing the rugs and the walls and everything else that had gotten ripped up by the monsters — and plain manual labor.
That meant that Kheper spent a lot of time working with Curry, who couldn’t handle either of those Words either. Of anyone in the two crews and their currently-unfortunate Kept, there was nobody Kheper less wanted to spend time with.
“So, c’mon, you can tell me. What’s Boom really like behind closed doors? It’s all orgies, isn’t it?”
This wasn’t the first of this sort of question. It wasn’t even like the fifth or sixth. Kheper looked at the bucket of weird body parts he was collecting, and the bucket of rocks Curry was collecting. “What is it about being covered in monster gore that makes you think about sex? Because it is the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
“Man, you’re Kept by Cynara. You’re part of Boom. What I wouldn’t give to tap that.”
“…Seriously.” Kheper shook his head. “Seriously? We’re cleaning up dead monster bits.”
“Seriously.” Curry picked up some more rocks. “You got so lucky.”
“I got Kept.”
“Everyone gets Kept. Almost everyone, at least. You got Kept by a hottie with a hot Change.”
“It totally doesn’t faze you that everyone ends up a slave for a year, does it?” Kheper felt a little bit guilty; he did like Cya, more or less, even if she had enslaved him. And she was pretty.
“Why should it?” Curry shrugged. “I mean, it would be great if I could get my own Kept, but the system works, man. You do your time, and then the school is your oyster.”
Kheper stared at him. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I mean, look at the people who didn’t wear a collar their first year. ‘Deus. Managed to collar Jaelie right of the go, and what happened? He got cocky. Man, anyone knows you don’t accept a Challenge like that if you have any chance of losing.”
Kheper picked up a hoof. Curry wasn’t going to stop taking, was he? “You’re saying he didn’t get Kept his first year, so he didn’t know to watch out for it his third year, and now he’s collared by a freshman?”
“Eggg-zactly. Not being collared makes you stupid, man.”
“What’s your excuse, then?” Kheper muttered it under his breath, quietly enough that Curry either missed it or pretended to. In the pine-tree’s case, Kheper was willing to bet on actually missing it.
“But I mean, Thorburn and Basalt were collared. I was collared. Your Keeper. All of Boom. Mm. Imagine Cynara and Zita under your collar…”
“Dude. Shut. Up.” Kheper turned his back and focused on hooves and legs and if this guy didn’t shut up soon, he was going to do something stupid.
“Why? Are you trying to tell me you’ve never thought about it?”
“Zita?” He was hedging and he knew it. “No, man. Zita’s cute, but she’s Leo’s. I’m not suicidal.”
“And your sexy Keeper?”
“Look, would you stop already? I’m trying to get this stupid detention that I didn’t even have anything to do with done, so I can go back to my room…”
“And get humped by your pretty Keeper, am I right?”
“…and do my goddamned homework.”
“Uh-hunh.” Curry shook his head and went back to picking up rocks. “I heard you, during the fight. You were taking bets. Keeper let you hold on to any of the profits?”
“She’s splitting it fifty-fifty with me.”
“So, at least you got something out of it. Ceinwen and Ahouva just had to watch — and cry. They’re good at crying. Damn — and they’re picking up just like we are. And they’re both pregnant. So what are you whining about?”
“I’m whining about getting stuck with you.” Kheper tried a new tack. “Come on, they could have at least let me work with Ceinwen or Ahouva. They’re a lot cuter than you are.”
Much to his surprise, Curry turned a bit yellow-green. “They’re taken.”
“So am I, pine boy. Why should that stop me from thinking?”
The greeny color was getting more pronounced. “They’re taken!”
“And?” This was fun. Far more fun than picking up monster bits.
“And you can’t go just wanting people that belong to someone else!”
“Why not? I don’t have any orders against it.” Kheper had to smirk at that one. That was a fun argument.
“They’re not yours!”
Kheper peered at the other guy. “You’ve never wanted someone who was Kept? I heard you drooling over Zita not ten minutes ago.”
“Only if she was mine.”
“So I’m picturing Ceinwen as mine. Does that make it better?”
“Uh…” Curry found a rock to pick up on the other side of the hall. “You’re an asshole.”
“Presumably, my Keeper likes me that way.” Having met Cabal and Fafnir, Kheper was beginning to think she did.
“Hrm. Don’t see why. She could have a nice boy.”
“Clearly, because she doesn’t like nice boys. Why? Are you interested?”
He knew it wasn’t a wise question, but he couldn’t help himself.
Curry didn’t answer. The rocks seemed very fascinating. Kheper, who didn’t really want to know if Cya would take on a second Kept — even a volunteer — found that a good example. There was monster goo everywhere. He was glad for the gloves and bucket, more glad for the shovel. This looked like remaining bits and pieces of large rats. Really, really large rats.
And one much smaller live lizard-rat, eating the remains. Kheper walked around the thing once, wondering if he should just kill it. It wasn’t hurting anything. It was just sitting there, eating dead rat pieces.
Curry’s answer stopped Kheper with his shovel half-raised. “What?”
“Yeah. I’d take her collar. She’s hot, man. I’d be under her collar to tap that.”
“Are you always this much of a pig?” He grabbed a couple large chunks of wall and started making a wall around the lizard-rat creature.
“Man, I don’t see what your problem is. She’s hot. You get to fuck her. She’s a girl, you’re a guy. That’s how things go.”
“Didn’t you say you did your time Kept?” The creature unfolded two insect-like wings and flew over his makeshift wall.
“Yeah. I mean, I’d rather Keep someone than be Kept, sure. Then they’ve got to do what you say. Then there’s no ‘I’ve got a headache.’“
“You really are an asshole, you know that.” Kheper found his hand was clenching into a fist.
“I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking. And seriously, if you’re not man enough to handle the woman you’ve got, stop playing all pure and innocent.”
“Who says I’m playing? Who says pure and innocent has anything to do with it?”
“Beata Maria,” the tree-boy started singing. “You know I am a righteous man, Of my virtue I am justly proud… (that’s you, Khep).”
“What are you talking about you lout…” Kheper found he was singing. “(The hell?)”
“Beata Maria, You know I’m so much purer than, The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.(or so you think)…”
“I’m just getting my first year down. (What the HELL?)”
“It’s not my fault…” Curry’s voice was rising to the ceiling. Kheper was getting more and more angry.
“The hell it’s not!”
“I’m not to blame…”
“What is this game?”
“It’s your Keeper-girl, the witch who set this flame.”
“You nasty churl! A witch? I’ll give you flames!” Churl? Kheper didn’t know what had gotten into him. But witch? He thought fast. “Fuck your green-prick tricks, asshole, Meentik Kwxe.”
Fire filled the hall. It was a bigger fireball than Kheper could usually pull off; he stepped back a step, and another, as the hallway was flooded. Shit. That was more than…
“What the hell what the hell?”
He killed the Working as fast as he could. Curry’s clothes had burned off, but he was still fine — well, fine-ish. His chest had gotten prickly all over, like he’d turned into a pinecone.
And then, out of nowhere, seeds exploded out of him, filling the hall, getting everywhere, coating Kheper’s shirt and everything else they’d just cleaned. And the tree-boy let out a sound like…
…well, like release. Kheper backed up slowly. And then more quickly.
“Cleaning is not the same as setting on fire. As tempting as it may be.” Valentina stepped up, setting her hand on his shoulder. “Oh. Oh, my, interesting. Idu Huamu. Oh, no, Idu Tlacatl. Idu Tlacatl Huamu?”
Know, know plants… know flesh… know plants-flesh? Kheper stared at the tall green woman, who was, in turn, staring at Curry and the mess that he’d made. “What?”
“Neither of you move. That’s an order. I will take it out of your flesh if you disobey.”
“Shit.” Kheper didn’t move. Valentina dashed off down the hall, talking quickly into a radio.
“…what just happened?” Curry, too, was holding very still, but he had a expression of bafflement on his face.
“Well. You pulled a musical number and called my girlfriend a witch, so I lit you on fire. Then you spurted seeds all over the hall. Now we’re in trouble.”
“I didn’t do the music thing, you did!”
“I wouldn’t even know how to do that. And the seeds were definitely you.” He wanted to pluck them off of himself, but he didn’t dare move.
“But the fire was you. Except it felt good…”
“Okay, you are definitely not my type. And if you talk about my girlfriend like that again, I’m going to turn you into an ice cube.”
“Your girlfriend, is it? What is this, high school?”
“Well… yeah. It pretty much is, isn’t it?” Kheper was getting uncomfortable, not moving. He’d rather be cleaning up rat pieces than this.
“Hrmph. She’s your Keeper.”
“She can be both.” He wasn’t totally sure of that, actually. But he thought it might be worth a try.
“So you’re going to be all smoochy-face now?”
“What are you, twelve?”
“No?” Curry sounded uncertain on that point. “Not really.”
“Just developmentally. He’s a tree, Kheper, give him a little leeway.” Valentina was back, with long plastic tweezers and a tray full of specimen jars and four small pots. “Hold still.”
“I’m already holding still.”
“Hold stiller.” She began picking the seeds off of him. “I want to be sure to save all of these. Idu Tlacatl Huamu.”
“Know plant-flesh-of-makers?” This time he asked.
Valentina took the time to shoot him a smile. “Well. Currumbyn is a bit of a unique case. He’s Ellehemaei, of course, but he seems to have a very plant-like reproductive system.” She turned to face Curry. “You apparently reproduce by metagenesis.”
“I do not! Take it back!”
“Meta… above…beyond maybe… production.” Kheper frowned. “Wait, that’s something with alternating generations, sexual and asexual.”
“I am not!” Curry was getting increasingly upset, or at least increasingly loud. “I have sex just fine!”
“I can’t imagine you would.” Valentina frowned. “Hold still, Currumbyn. This isn’t a bad thing, just a very unusual thing. You are, I suppose, a type of dryad.”
“I’m not a girl!”
“Currumbyn, I suggest you take some time with a dictionary this weekend. Perhaps Kheper would be willing to help you out.” She handed Kheper a dustpan. “Kheper, very carefully sweep these seeds into this pan, please.”
“I can move?”
“You can move.” She stared at the seeds in her jars for a moment, muttering a few more Workings. “Very interesting indeed. I’m not sure the Director will be pleased, but you certainly have reproduced.”
“I did what?”
“These.” She used her tweezers to place a seed in a pot of dirt. “These are your children, Curry.” Four of them, all told, went into little pots on her tray.
“All of them?” He looked down at himself in dismay. Kheper tried hard not to laugh, and mostly succeeded.
“So far, only these four have been fertilized. The rest are seeds waiting for — Kheper, are you any good at Biology?”
“I’m good in anything science.” Why bother with false modesty? “I can sit him down with a kid’s guide to the stork this weekend — I mean, if Cya says it’s okay.”
“Very good. Currumbyn, I suggest you pay very close attention to what Kheper teaches you.”
“I’m not stupid!”
“No, but you have chosen to ignore Biology to the point where, as far as I know, you are still in remedial Earth Science. Professor Pelletier is very frustrated with you.”
“I don’t like that bio stuff.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Why do I have to learn it?”
Kheper rolled his eyes. “Because you’re a biological organism. That’s not an insult, Curry, it means you’re alive. And your biology is a little weird. So if you want to understand why you’re making kids in flowerpots…”
“So I’m not shooting blanks?”
“No. Not blanks.”
“I imagine your penis is purely decorative.” Valentina was not helping.
“Hey! Hey, come on, it works!”
“So I’ve heard. Dr. Caitin and I had quite the informative conversation with Belle during your first year.”
“Ma’am?” Kheper was started to feel bad for Curry. “Look, I get that he’s a tree, but he doesn’t. And if my Change had given me a bug penis, I’d probably be pretty upset about it.”
“Heh. Bug penis.”
Kheper ignored Curry and continued. “So maybe lay off him a bit? I mean, that’s his grad requirement there, right? Fertilized seeds.”
Which meant Curry was further along on that than Kheper was. Damnit. Worry about that later.
Valentina nodded. “All right. So, Curry. I’ll let Kheper explain the rest, but what you need to know is that these seeds here will probably grow into baby-producing trees. These other seeds that Kheper is cleaning up are unfertilized, and unless we find another plant-change to fertilize them, they won’t sprout. Okay?”
“Okay… um. Wait. This is my jizz?”
“…Yes. Close enough. And the seeds in these flowerpots are your babies. Unless you have an objection, I’m going to take them to the greenhouse to care for them there, until they flower. All right?”
“Um… oh, yeah. I don’t mind that at all. I’m no good with kids and I’m pretty bad with plants, too.”
“I know. I remember your botany project.”
“That wasn’t my fault! Well, okay, but it wasn’t totally my fault, at least.”
“Mm. But you don’t mind me keeping the seedlings?”
“No, go ahead. I’m not into the whole dad thing, or plant-keeper thing, at all.”
“All right.” She shook her head, and finished packing up. “You two get back to cleaning up. I’ll get these back to the lab and the greenhouse.”
Curry waited until the green lady had left. “Is this stuff my jizz, really?” His voice was a stage whisper, conspiratorial. Kheper resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“No. It’s just your seeds, like any plant.”
“I’m not a plant.”
“Dude, you give off seeds. Okay?”
“Okay.” A pause, during which Kheper picked up the scrub brush and started working on the non-flame damage to the hall. “That was cool. I should find someone to light me on fire more often.”
“It’s not going to be me.”
“I’m not into guys. I mean…!”
“Look, even if you were my type, I’m pretty sure my Keeper wouldn’t like it. Not yours, remember? Spoken for.”
“Oh, come on. Maybe Cynara would light me on fire?”
“Come on, man. That’s my girlfriend you’re talking about.”
Curry fell silent for a blessed hour. Slowly, the hall started looking more like a hall and less like a horror-movie set after the actors had left.
It was almost time for someone to tell them to quit when Curry spoke again. “You offered to teach me, didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” What now?
“I figure I can explain stuff in terms you can understand better than Valentina can, and someone ought to explain it to you.”
“You think I’m stupid, don’t you?”
Yes. “No.” What? “I’m just really good at Bio.”
“Because you’re a nerd.”
“Yeah. I’m a nerd. Look, just show up at the suite Saturday, okay.”
“Okay. You don’t think your crew will beat me up, will they?”
“Not just for fun. Well, not for fun when you’re visiting for a reason and stuff.” Kheper shrugged. “Just show up, okay?”
“Okay.” Curry muttered his parting shot so quietly that Kheper barely heard it. “Thanks.”
“…and then he started spurting out seeds. And Valentina showed up and started planting them. Long story short, it looks like he’s got his grad requirements tucked into four little flower pots.”
“You set him on fire.” Cya put both hands over her face.
“He’s not mad about it.” Kheper had left out a lot of the details. Now he was beginning to wonder if he should have explained a little bit more thoroughly.
“Okay. So you set someone on fire and he’s not mad about it. He’s not mad about it because…”
Cynara, on the other hand, seemed like she was definitely a bit angry.
“Because, uh, I guess he’s one of those trees that releases their seeds when they’re on fire.” He’d read about those at some point. “He liked it.” Kheper decided to go all in. “He wondered if you would set him on fire later. Or if I would again.”
“Being set on fire…” Cya blinked, and shook her head, as if to clear the thought. Kheper didn’t blame her. “Okay. So, no, giving other people orgasms is not part of your duties as my Kept. Even if it’s with fire.”
“I didn’t think it was.” He was a little nervous about the whole thing, though. “Am I in trouble?”
“You lit Curry on fire.”
“Because he wouldn’t stop talking shit about you.”
“What sort of shit?” Cya’s eyes had narrowed, and her ears were raked back. Kheper wasn’t sure if she was upset at him or at Curry, though.
“Um.” Damnit, he didn’t stutter and stammer. That wasn’t him. “About how you’d look nice under his collar. Things like that.”
“Mmm.” That was not an encouraging expression. “So. You lit him on fire and accidentally gave him an orgasm.”
“That about sums it up.”
“And Valentina planted the seeds?”
“She said four of them might grow into babies.” Which brought Kheper back to the other point. “Which means Curry just took care of his graduation requirements.”
“Yes, yes it would. He self-fertilized, then?” Cya looked intrigued.
“Well, not that I’m going to tell Curry this, but she… hell, I don’t know. Trees don’t have gender the same way people do.”
Cya laughed shortly. “Poor tree. But that’s a tidy way to do it, flower pots.” She curved a hand over her stomach. Kheper tensed up. “Sadly, minks do it the normal way.”
“You only have Yoshi, right?” She didn’t talk about Dysmas, but she’d introduced him to her son, and she’d explained to him both that everyone needed two, and that the mother got custody, hands-down.
Yoshi was a cute kid, but Kheper was a little freaked out by the whole idea.
“Yeah. And Leo only has his one, Ruki.”
The exception to the mom rule, and Kheper hadn’t even tried to figure out how that had worked. Besides, his stomach was helpfully trying to drop to his toes.
Leo. Of course. Everything came back to Leo, Howard, or both of them (Except on the rare occasion when it came back to Cabal, instead). “Howard…?” He had to ask. He hated himself for asking. But he asked anyway.
“I think he and Lily worked something out. I didn’t ask.” And her voice was as tight as Kheper’s felt, at that. He wanted to feel bad for her. He really did.
But he was too busy fighting the rock of jealousy in his gut to spend too much time on sympathy. “So. Leo needs a kid.”
She caught something in his tone. “Don’t…” She sat down and studied him. “You have three more years.”
She sounded like she was pleading with him. That didn’t help Kheper’s confused feelings at all. “Yeah. I’ve got three more years. And you’ll be gone after this year.”
“And you can find someone else.”
“Well, yeah.” He frowned. That sounded wrong. “I mean. I like you a lot, Cya.”
“That’s the bond.”
“No, I mean, I like you. I don’t like this whole collar thing. I don’t like that you tricked me and trapped me. But I like you. And I’d totally like having a kid with you. But then, I mean. I’d have a kid I never saw, wouldn’t I?”
She winced. “Well, we could agree on a city? After school…”
“You and I and all of the rest of Boom?”
“Howard doesn’t like cities.”
“And I’m an east-coast DC kid. You know that.”
“But…” She stopped and frowned at him thoughtfully. “Are you trying to talk me out of this or am I trying to talk you out of it?”
Kheper laughed shortly. “I’m trying to talk myself out of caring that you’ve already made up your mind.”
“Because I have to live here, don’t I? I have to live with whatever you choose, at least until the end of the year.”
“Yeah. You do.” She looked him up and down. “And so you’d rather live with it and be okay with it…”
“…than spend the whole year complaining like a certain former Kept of yours I know.”
She laughed shortly. “I approve.”
He ignored the brief burst of pleasure that gave him. “I thought you might.”
“So…” She eyed him awkwardly through a fringe of red hair. “I wish I could help you find someone, for next year. I could come back…”
The thought made him want to laugh and cough and sob all at once. “I’ll figure it out. I figured out dating fine, before I came here. And look, Cabal and Fafnir did fine.”
“They did.” She seemed reassured by that. “Good. I tried to do good by them. And by you.”
“Well, if you want to do good by me…” He was being daring, he knew. But he had to be daring or be angry, and being angry would definitely not get him anywhere.
“Yeah?” Oh, good, she was smiling. Her nice smile, too, not the violent one.
“Well, we could, I don’t know, stop talking about other people and other people’s mating habits…”
“And talk about ours, maybe? In the non-procreative sense?”
“Only you could make that sound sexy.”
“I’m trying.” She scooted closer and began unbuttoning his shirt. “I like being with you, Kheper. I like having you.”
“I like… you know I don’t like being had. But if I’m going to be had by anyone, I’m glad it’s you.” She was not wearing any buttons, so he reached for the bottom hem of her sweater instead. “I like being with you.”
“I know you don’t like the collar.” She pressed her lips to his throat, just above that damn thing. “I know you don’t like being Kept. That’s why I Kept you.”
And to that, Kheper had no answer at all. Luckily, that didn’t seem to be what she wanted him to do with his mouth anyway.
Friday, March 12, 2004
“I’m sorry, sir, but I really need a day off. My feet are killing me, my back is killing me, and I can’t do any more Working. Dr. Caitrin’s orders.”
She was sorry, she did need a day off, the doctor had told her to stop Working for a couple days, and yet Ceinwen was still lying through her teeth. And she liked it.
Luke looked at her thoughtfully. “And the Doctor said that the fresh air would be therapeutic for you?”
“She did, sir.”
“And I suppose you’d like your Keeper for protection, in case something got out of the school?”
She hadn’t been hoping for that much. She could see a twinkle in the gym teacher’s eye, too; he was indulging her – and giving her the opportunity to take Thorburn along or not, as she wished. “I’d like that, sir. It’s not always safe – anywhere, really.”
“The sad truth of the world.” Luke’s wings dipped a little, but he was still almost-smiling. “Two days off for you, Ceinwen. One for your Keeper. And, Ceinwen…?”
“They work better if their women are there. And they don’t dare look like they’re foisting off work onto you or Ahouva, so they work even more than they would otherwise.”
Ceinwen blinked. “And what about Kheper, then?”
“Well, he took bets. I’d say he’s actually culpable.”
She stifled a giggle. “All right, sir. Not much gets past you, does it?”
“I try my best.” Now the smile had faded entirely. “You’re happy, with Thorburn?”
And wasn’t that a loaded question? “I think we’re coming to an understanding.”
“If you ever need help…”
“It’s not that bad. We’ll figure it out, he and I, together.”
That made the gym teacher smile. “Good. Good luck.”
“We’re getting a picnic? It’s not that warm out.”
“We can use the gazebo. There’s a little heater.” Ceinwen finished packing up the basket, topping it off with fried chicken.
“Aren’t we still on detention?”
“I asked Luke nicely for a break. Because of the baby.”
“Oh. The baby.” That seemed to make Thorburn a little uncomfortable. She’d have to figure that one out. After she got them outside. “Aren’t I supposed to be in charge here?”
She turned and looked him straight in the eye. “You are in charge, and anyone who says different is lying. I want to go outside, and Luke says it’s okay. Will you please let me go outside, and come with me?”
He looked at her for a moment, and then smiled. “You’re learning.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice. You’re not angry, then?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. You got me out of a day of work, after all.”
“After you got me in to weeks of detention.”
“It was a lot of fun.” His smile was growing. She loved his smile.
“For you, maybe. For Ahouva and I it sucked.”
He touched her cheek gently. “You’re still mad at me about it?”
“I’d be less mad if I didn’t have to spend all my free time cleaning floors.”
“Should I be sorry?” Now both hands were cupping her face. Ceinwen held very still.
“You’re the Keeper. You’re in charge.” When in doubt, repeat yourself.
“I am.” His lips touched hers in a kiss so gentle she could barely feel it. “And you are a lovely Kept.”
Ceinwen had no idea what was going on, but it involved kissing. She’d take it.
Art by Reymonkey
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?