April 17, 2013 by Lyn
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
“But classes just started again.”
Gar had never heard Sylvia sound so plaintive, and, after the scolding Bel had been giving him, he wasn’t going to ignore it. Already half-off the couch, he sat back down again.
“You don’t like parties?” It was probably a dumb question, considering his Keeper, but getting it out in the open might help.
“They’re loud, and full of people incapacitating themselves unwisely.”
“Having fun? Oh. Drinking.” Gar was somehow not surprised that Addergoole involved underage drinking. “Well, it’s not like we can skip class tomorrow, no matter how drunk we – they – get.”
“But nobody will be paying attention. They might as well have skipped.” She frowned, and refused to look directly at him. “You want to go to this party, don’t you?”
No, he’d been half out of his seat because his butt was numb. Which it was, because they never went anywhere. “I like parties.”
“I do not drink. This should not be too much of a hardship.”
This again. Gar was fairly certain what she was talking about, but she wouldn’t just come out and say I’m pregnant. If she was. Could you get pregnant having sex just like, twice? He was too embarrassed to ask anyone.
He brought himself back to the present. “Wait.”
“I am waiting.”
“You want to go to the party?”
“Oh. Damn.” What was she saying, then?
“But I am willing to go with you, so that you may go and feel comfortable.”
Gar wasn’t sure that having Sylvia at a party would actually make him feel more comfortable. On the other hand, she was totally… yes, she was, wasn’t she? “Really? Why?” What was he, stupid?
“Because you wish to go. And… I wish you to be happy.”
His brain turned sideways for a moment, before he managed to convince himself that wasn’t an order.
“Oh. Hunh.” He tried a smile, and found that he could make it feel not-too-funny if he really worked at it. “Thanks. But, I mean, won’t you be miserable?”
“I do not know. I have not been to many parties. I have been to none at all since I ceased being Kept.”
“Your Keeper liked parties, hunh?” The one thing neither Sylvia nor the collar would tell him a damn thing about was her mysterious former Keeper.
“My former Keeper very much enjoyed anything that was loud, chaotic, troublesome, or alcohol-fueled.”
“Oh. Yowch. That must have sucked.” Gar didn’t need confirmation, but it did bring forward another question he’d been wondering about. “With a Keeper like that – why Keep me? And Arundel, for that matter? We’re both kind of loud.”
“Arundel fell on me.”
Gar blinked. With anyone else, you could assume they were using some figure of speech. With Sylvia… “Like, through a doorway?”
“Through Porter’s Door, to be specific. Through the ceiling.” She pointed upward. “That is how I acquired a crew.”
“You know, I’d always wondered.” Gar shook his head. “So he fell on you, so you Kept him. I didn’t fall on you.”
“No. The collar chose you. I suppose I should not be surprised. My former Keeper, interfering even now.”
“The…” You did what?
This collar was programmed to find people who would be beneficial for Sylvia, not those whose company she would enjoy, or who would enjoy hers.
“…The collar thinks I’m good for you. Or it thought I was when it grabbed me, I guess.”
She did something like a smile. “I imagined it was something of that sort. It has never cared much for comfort.”
“Yeah, that part I definitely noticed.”
“I apologize. Does it pain you?”
“Only in that ‘it’s a pain in the butt’ way.”
“You are a strange man, Garfunkle.”
“You’re a strange woman, Sylvia.” He realized as he said it that he both meant it, and… didn’t mind, or something. Is this the bond thing fucking with my head?
Uncertain. You may actually like her.
He coughed. “So. How about this. We go to the party, and hang out – I’ll hang out, and you sort of… “ help?
The collar fed him words. He repeated them, feeling silly. “…you can spend time in the company of others, near me, staying quiet if you wish but socializing if the urge hits you. Really?”
“Oh. That’s what you do at parties?”
“That’s mostly what I do at parties. And drink, unless you don’t want me to.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I do not wish you to become excessively inebriated. However, I am more than capable of ‘cutting you off’ if I feel that you have had too much to drink.”
“Oh. Well, that works, then.” He stopped, and looked at her thoughtfully. “Okay, I don’t want to be That Guy – I don’t want to be a shallow jerk, I mean – but um.”
“You wish me to dress differently.”
“Yeah. No. Yes?” He flailed a bit. “Okay, look. Maybe if you talked to Bel, she could find you something that you liked, that wouldn’t make the girls say such stupid things?”
“I do not care what they say.”
“I know. And, I mean, you can say you don’t care all you want. But I’ve seen you, after one of them says something, and, um. You make your sad-otter face.”
“I do not have a sad-otter face.”
“You kinda do. Um. Sorry. But really. Clothes?”
“Why do they matter so much?”
“Because teenagers are mean. People are mean.” Now he felt like he was on solid ground. He’d had this conversation with his little sister before. “People will find anything they can to pick on. I mean, they pick on people’s Changes, and it’s not like we have any control over that at all.”
She touched one of her ears. “You believe if I change my clothing…”
“I believe it’s stupid and shallow and miserable and one of the big reasons you hate going out in public. Because people are mean.”
“I am not wearing skin-tight pants. Nor shirts.”
“No, noo, please don’t. You’re not Brydan.”
“No, I am not. Nor Ivette.” She wrinkled her nose in clear distaste.
“I don’t know who Ivette is. Look, I can go ask Bel…” Gar was actually halfway out of his seat before Sylvia shook her head no. No?
“You help me find something.”
“Urk. Sylvia, I don’t know anything about girl’s clothes.” Nothing. Please, no.
“I know nothing about parties. You know what you find attractive.”
“Then we will go to the Store and you will help me find clothing.” She almost-smiled again. “Perhaps we can ask the girl behind the counter for help.”
“I think that’s Noam.”
“Brenna looks quite nice this year. She even leaves her Mask down sometimes.”
“Is that new?”
“Hunh. Go Noam. So, um. Okay. Just let me change my pants first?”
“And your shirt.” She plucked at his T-shirt. “I do not enjoy this one.”
“You never said anything.” He looked down at the Thing T-shirt he’d had since Jr. High.
“I do not wish to be…. That Girl?”
Ha. Good one.” He smiled crookedly. “Something else your Keeper did?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes my clothes were not appropriate.”
“Oh. Damn.” Gar winced. “Shit, Sylvia, I didn’t mean…”
“It is all right. You are not trying to make me into what you think I should be, correct?”
“Uh, yeah. I mean, you Kept me, not the other way around.” And she really hadn’t been trying to make him into anything. “I don’t really want to control anyone but myself.”
“Mm. And do you want to control yourself?”
“What? Yes! Yes, of course I do.” He took a breath and thought of calm places. Places that weren’t spikey. “You know what happens when I get angry. I nearly killed you!”
“I am not that easy to kill.”
“Yeah, well, the midget inside you might be a little easier to end and I really, really don’t want to do that.”
The words flew out of his mouth. Better words than stone spikes, but he still froze. Sylvia stared at him.
“I did not say…”
“No. And neither did the collar. But I’m not a moron. And you kept talking around things and… well, this is Addergoole. Even Timora’s pregnant.”
“I have not asked Dr. Caitrin yet.” She was sitting more stiffly than normal, her chin tucked.
“Maybe we ought to do that, before we go buying clothes?”
“I don’t like the idea.” She was making her letters even more crisp than normal. Her don’t was nearly as sharp as Gar’s rocks.
“Of talking to the doctor?” Gar was lost, and that worried him.
“I do not like the idea of being pregnant.” She was actually scooting away from him on the couch. “It is new and unfamiliar and I don’t like that.”
“Yeah, I’d probably be pretty freaked out if there was something growing inside of me, too. Um. Sorry.” She was cringing. He had never seen Sylvia cringe, not even when Timora used the Voice. “Sorry, that was stupid.”
“No, that was accurate.” She shook herself and smoothed her hair and whiskers. “That was exactly how I feel about the matter.”
“But…” Gar wasn’t really sure how things happened around here, but he’d gotten some feeling from – well, if nothing else, the number of Ninth Cohort girls that were starting to be round in the belly and slow in PE. “You were Kept your first year, the same as everyone else.”
It is not recommended to go there, the collar warned. Gar plowed on anyway.
“Didn’t you go through this then? I mean, Most of the Kept here are, right?”
She didn’t say anything. She smoothed her whiskers again, and, in his head, the collar was full of ominous silence. Gar tried not to tense up. Tensing up was bad.
“Um…” He didn’t know what else to say. Okay, the collar had been right. It usually was. But this was between him and her, not him-her-and-the-collar in some sick Addergoole three-way.
She shook her head. “I apologize. I am not always forthcoming with information, am I?”
“No? I mean, that’s par for the course here in Addergoole, and you gave me this collar, which is a lot more information than a lot of people give out. So that’s pretty cool and stuff. But no, you don’t talk about, I mean, you, at all.” He was babbling. He closed his mouth.
And then opened it again. “I mean, I don’t even really know your favorite color.” Come on, joke, joke, right? He knew she didn’t have a sense of humor, but maybe…
“Green.” She plucked at her shirt, which was a mossy green sort of thing. “Yours is red.”
“Mine…?” He looked down at his red shirt. “Yeah. I like green a lot, too, but it sort of looks bad with the whole pink stone thing.”
“It could look quite nice, I think. Or so I am told.” She wasn’t quite smiling, but it was something near it. “I do not find talking about myself to be comfortable. People do not tend to react favorably.”
“Well, Arundel and Porter have known you all year, and they still like you.”
“But you do not.”
“Hey, I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t say that today. But you have said it before.”
“You trapped me into slavery. You didn’t expect me to be angry?”
“I did not… do not understand why you continued to be angry. I do not treat you badly.”
“No, I mean, no… damn it. What would treating me badly look like, to you?” He didn’t want to make her cry again. He really didn’t. And not just because Bel would yell at him and Timora would look all disappointed and the kept-thing in his head would twist all up and make him feel stupid. No, he just really didn’t want her to be sad. But she was being dumb, in that way-too-smart dumb way she got sometimes.
And now she was looking at him like she could read his mind, which, for all he knew, she could.
“I attempt not to force unwanted contact on you, or to make you feel small, or insignificant, or to disrupt your routine. I try to allow you to have quiet and peace and not force you to spend every moment around me.”
Gar stared at her for a moment, working his jaw. “Could you tell me who your old Keeper was, so I could punch him in the nose?”
She looked startled, and then actually smiled, a little bit. “Why do you wish to punch my former Keeper in the nose?”
“Because he clearly had no idea who he was Keeping. I mean, he… did he…” Her widening eyes told him he was starting to prickle. “Sorry.” He settled into the couch and thought about anything else. Baseball. Baseball helped. Pitcher on the mound… There. “You could order me not to explode around you, you know.”
“But that would be restraining your freedom.”
“Yeah, but it would be saving you from getting a face full of shrapnel.”
“You have not exhibited projectiles in my presence since the first incident.”
“But I’ve come close a lot of times.”
“Coming close is not the same as following through. You are very angry.”
“I’m not angry, because when I’m angry, I blow up. I don’t want to blow up. So I’m not angry.” He sounded to himself like he was biting the words off, but he couldn’t stop himself. “I don’t like it. I don’t like thinking about someone hurting you.”
“I did not say that they hurt me.”
“Yeah, you did. Not directly or anything, but you did. You don’t want to touch me in ways I don’t like. You don’t want to disrupt my schedule. Sylvia, I know how you get when something disrupts your schedule. Can I punch this guy now?”
“My former Keeper no longer attends Addergoole.”
“I’ll only be here four years. I can visit him and punch him when I graduate. It’ll keep.”
To his surprise, Sylvia was smiling a little bit. “You are angry on my behalf.”
“Well, you don’t ever get angry. Somebody has to be.” He glared, and then, realizing he was glaring, turned it to the wall instead of at her. “I don’t know why you’re not angry.”
“My former Keeper did not mean to mistreat me. We were simply very ill-fitted to each other.”
“Sounds like someone I know.”
“Who do you mean?”
He turned back, smiling, then realized she wasn’t joking. Of course not. “Us. We don’t fit very well.”
“I don’t see that at all. We get along.”
“I ‘persisted in being angry’ for months.” Maybe still. He didn’t feel very calm right now.
“Some anger at being Kept is rational.”
“You didn’t think so when you were complaining about it.”
“I don’t understand the continuation of it. But that is a small thing.”
“Not for me, it’s not!” He stood up, fists clenched. Damnit… “Damnit, Sylvia. I don’t get angry.”
“Some of that is certainly your Change.”
“And some of it is you doing your best to treat me exactly like you want to be Kept, when we are very. Different. People.” He couldn’t look at her. His jaw was tense. Damnit, this had started out so well. How had he managed to ruin it yet again?
“Oh.” She sounded like she had when he’d blown up at her. “Oh. This bears consideration.”
Damnit. Gar took a couple breaths. Come on, Gar, don’t be a moron. He scooted closer and, very carefully, put his arm around her. “Don’t cry, okay? Bel will yell at me again if you do.”
She smiled at him, but it looked sick and faked. “I am not crying.”
“But you’re thinking about it, I can tell. Look… this isn’t bad, and I know it. And I like you. I mean, we did stuff, didn’t we?”
“You are a teenaged male and I offered.”
Gar counted, silently, to ten, and then again, moving his lips the second time.
“You are angry again.” She frowned at him. “I make you angry quite a bit.”
“You assume things about me quite a bit. Look.” He seemed to be saying that a lot today. “I like you. Okay? I like you a lot. Not just because of the Kept thing, I really like you.” He couldn’t be sure, of course; he hadn’t known her before she stuck a collar on him. But he’d lie through his teeth if it would make her stop crying. Or not cry at all, since she was still on the edge of it.
“You’re angry so often.”
“I don’t like the things you do, yeah. I don’t really like being Kept at all, so it’s not easy to deal with. But I like you.” He touched her nose, feeling very daring. “Please believe me.”
“I believe you.” She smiled for a moment, and then the smile vanished. “But if I am treating you badly, I do not know how to treat you well.”
“Well… you could ask, you know.”
She frowned. “My Mentor may have ideas I am missing. I believe there have been hints for months that I have ignored.”
“I meant ask me.”
Once again, she appeared startled. “Oh. Oh, I could.” She nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I could.”
Gar decided to wrap the conversation back to the beginning, in hopes that they might still get to go to the party. “For instance, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“What does that have to do with treating you well?”
“When you don’t tell me things, I feel like you’re treating me like a kid.”
“You are younger than I am.”
“But not a moron.” He was pushing it, he knew it. “I can figure stuff out. And when you’re keeping stuff from me, it really bugs me.”
“I do not really want to think about this.” She frowned, and looked down at her hands. “But that is not rational. Will you come with me to Dr. Caitrin’s, tomorrow?”
Gar swallowed. He had a feeling this was a huge concession. “Yeah, I can do that. I can do that for you.” He touched her hair carefully. “Will you be okay at the party?”
“I should be fine. If I am not, I will tell you.” She gave him a smile that almost looked genuine. “Perhaps allowing you to dress me up will help the situation.”
“Let’s go look, then.” He stood up and offered her his hands. All this almost-fighting made him want her touching him as much as possible.
Maybe she actually understood that. She took his hands, anyway, and stood. “I doubt we will find anything in my closet that you will find suitable.”
“We can go to the Store, you know. I’ll pay for it.”
“I should not have you pay for my things.”
“It’s a gift, it’s all right.” He tugged her gently towards the door. “You can buy me something nice in return if it will make you feel better.”
“Would that make you feel better?”
“If the tables were turned? Yeah.” She was letting him move her, so he took them down the hall, and down the stairs. “Then it’s more like we’re in a partnership. Doing things for each other to be nice. Like, you know, a normal couple.”
“I’ve never been part of a normal couple.” He wasn’t sure, he could never be sure with her, but Gar thought she sounded wistful.
“Well, I guess you’re going to have to let me teach how you, then, aren’t you?” For all his vast one-girlfriend-ever experience, he thought he probably could teach her.
“I would, perhaps, like that.”
Later that evening
The crew known as “A” for what Gar figured were probably pretty obvious reasons – Accalon, Adannaya, Ambrose, Abaddon, and Abednego – were in charge of the party that had started this whole conversation, but it looked like it had tumbled across the hall into the Sharp Edges’ suite.
Arundel and Timora were visible just inside the A’s suite, so it was there that Gar headed, carefully steering his Keeper and trying to make it look as if she was steering him, instead.
In the end, she’d ended up in a pretty green floral skirt and a little sweater-thing that Gar didn’t really understand. It made her look pretty, he knew that, without making her look trashy.
“Sylvia, Gar. Come on in if you mean us no harm.” Ambrose greeted them at the doorway. “You look really nice today, Sylvia.”
Gar could have hugged the skinny guy. Well, maybe hugged and then spiked, because he wasn’t sure he liked the look the man was giving Syl. But it did make her smile.
“You are known for having good taste in women. Thank you.”
O-kay, well, that was close enough. Gar smiled uncertainly at Ambrose. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He nodded at Gar. “Abednego is mixing drinks. The rest of your crew is here already; I think Porter and Belfreja are across the hall. And watch out for Kendon, he’s in a foul mood.”
“Thanks, man. Can I get you some water or juice, Sylvia?” He could be a good Kept and a good date all at once.
“Juice, please.” She released his hand. “I will be talking with Arundel and Timora.”
Gar nodded. Of course she would be. He wondered, a little, how long this would last. But he’d take what he could get.
“Hey, man.” He didn’t share any classes with Abednego, but he guessed that that was the guy standing behind the bar, with white stripes along the sides of his black hair and short outward-curling horns. “Whatcha got?”
“Keeper letting you drink?” The guy grinned as he said it. Gar smiled back.
“She’ll take juice, straight. I’ll take something bent, preferably with vodka.”
“Hard day?” Abednego poured two drinks, skewering two cherries with a little sword for the juice-only concoction.
Gar smiled cheerfully. “Aren’t they all?” He sniffed the second drink; he could smell the alcohol. “Thanks, man.”
“Hey. Illegitimi non carborundum, you know?”
“Yeah. You guys get involved in the monster-hunting thing?”
“A little.” Abednego shrugged. “We’re not really a massively combat-ready crew, you know? Ambrose doesn’t do fighting and Accalon would rather flirt with… everything. Addy’s busy and that leaves me and Abaddon.”
Gar took that all in, took a drink, and tried again.”Damn, your crew sounds big.”
“That’s just all the A’s getting to you. Your Keeper’s crew isn’t small.”
“That’s just Kept. I mean, us. I mean…” Gar frowned.
“I gotcha. You guys aren’t big into combat, either, are you?”
“Well, Arundel and Porter and I were on that fact-finding mission, and then Run got turned to stone and everything got a little fucked up.” Another sip. Sylvia had been very, very upset. It had been hell for a week or two. “This drink has a lot of kick.”
“Just on the front end. It won’t knock you over unless you’re a real lightweight.”
“Ha. I’m made of stone, man.”
“I see that. Hey, your Keeper looks lonely. Come back later and I’ll top you off, okay?”
“Sure.” He glanced over his shoulder; Sylvia was frowning faintly, looking as if she was watching a ping-pong match between Arundel and Gregori.
Gar used elbows as needed – but no stone-spikes, of course – to get to her side. “Here’s your drink.”
She sniffed his and then hers. “Thank you. They are discussing… Sports.”
Gar didn’t bother to stifle the laugh. “Sports, hunh? Hey, what do you like to talk about, when you’re socializing? Pretend you like socializing.” He tacked on the last before the wrinkle above her nose could turn into a full frown.
She still thought about that one for a moment, a long and strange moment. “Probabilities.”
“Probabilities?” That had not been the answer he’d been expecting.
“The likeliness, looking at a set of circumstances, of a certain event happening.”
“Oh.” He smiled at her, and hoped she’d figured out by now that that meant he was teasing. “Like sports.”
“No, I… oh. Interesting.”
Gar was unused to Sylvia really smiling at him. The feeling it sent through him was weird, like being electrocuted, only in a good way. He swallowed, and studied his drink, while stealing glances at Sylvia, who was still smiling at him.
“You are more clever than I thought.”
“Thanks? I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I never thought you were foolish or stupid.” Her eyes slid over to Arundel and back to Gar. He blinked. What?
“Thanks.” He was going to stay with ‘thanks.’ It seemed safer. “So. Probabilities.”
“What do you enjoy talking about?”
“Hunh.” It wasn’t an easy question. “Everything, I guess? The fun is really in the talking.”
She seemed perplexed by that, but Gar wasn’t sure how to explain it. “I mean. If you like talking about probabilities, I’ll have fun talking about probabilities. If I’m talking to Bel and Porter, we make murder-mystery jokes and talk about old films. I don’t know much, but I can fake it. Like that.”
She blinked. “Oh.”
“You’re an extrovert.” She said it like she’d discovered a particularly rare species of rock.
Which, Gar supposed, he was.
Porter, Bel thought, would likely enjoy bear-baiting.
Right now, he was simultaneously flirting with Ceinwen and Speed, despite her near-certainty that he had no interest in either of them beyond the flirtation.
That left both Gregori and Thorburn grumbling but with no real recourse beyond looking like an asshole, and their crews both a bit amused and on edge.
Bel rolled her eyes. Her Keeper was a giant child. And he was pestering bigger children.
“It’s a lovely party.” She set her fingertips on Gregori’s arm. “It’s your suite, right?”
Gregori wrenched his attention away from Porter and Speed, and turned to Bel, his glower fading into a smile. “It’s our suite, yeah. Sharp Edges. You’re a Ninth, aren’t you?”
“I am. I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.” She offered him her fingertips. “I’m Belfreja.” She intentionally left off the cy’ and the oro’, just to see what he’d do.
“A pleasure to meet you.” He lifted her fingertips to his lips, and barely touched them. “Gregori. They call me the Kraken.”
“And the pleasure is all mine.” He’d Kept Damaris last year; he liked girls at least as much as he liked boys. And his eyes were all over her. She smiled, and did the thing with her lower back that made her chest look just that much more impressive. Thank you, Mom.
It had the desired effect… and then an undesired one. His eyes lingered on her breasts, and then trailed up to her throat. “You’re collared.”
Bel weighed her responses. “There aren’t many in the Ninth that aren’t, by this point.”
“Harrumph.” He frowned. “It’s always like that, the beginning of the year. And you always have some smart-asses.”
“Like Ciara?” Maybe Bel liked bear-baiting, too.
The Kraken just smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile, but it was a smile. “Amadeus was – is, I suppose – my friend. But he deserved that. He got sloppy.”
Bel smiled back at him. She was pretty sure he was getting the better end of the deal. “Sometimes, I’m told, that happens. I see Xanthia is here today.”
The sharp expression went away, replaced with something that was just amused. “Hemlock is bribing her out of her hole with cookies.”
He sounded more amused with each passing sentence. Good. “With cookies. I guess Lemon decided he needed dating tips.”
“That is a lovely and sweet method of gaining a Kept or a girlfriend.”
“Is that what your Keeper did?”
“Mine?” She touched her collar as if she was unaware of the conversation they’d been dancing around. “No. He brought me roses, and lovely stories, and he was nice to my friends.”
“An unconventional method, here in Addergoole.”
“Perhaps more people need to ignore the conventions. What did you do with yours?” She risked bringing his attention back to Speed.
Rather than snarling, he smiled. “Ah, my Speed. He walked up to me and suggested I should Keep him.”
Bel licked her lips and smiled. From what she knew of Speed, she could easily believe that. “Unconventional.”
“Perhaps more people should be unconventional.”
Art by the Inventrix
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?