July 3, 2013 by Lyn
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
To say Efrosin was acting squirrely was sort of like saying the sky was blue, or, down here, that the ceiling was sort of off-white. (Pania had a pretty good idea how he and Reese had gotten along so well and so badly.) But since classes had wrapped up on Monday, Pania’s Keeper was acting even more erratically than usual.
It took him until almost bedtime Tuesday night to come around to saying something. He sat down on the bed, a couple feet away from Pania, his Mask down and his tail twitching.
“I like you.”
That was not what she’d expected out of his pacing and talking-to-himself and tail-lashing. “I like you, too. I get a little fed up, sometimes, but…” Conversations with his father came back to her. The thing about Eff is, this is him trying. You have to realize that this is him at his best. He might grow up someday – or he might not. “But I like you the way you are, too. Usually.”
“Faint praise.” His hand darted out to touch her cheek, almost like his Change-sake cat batting at a toy. “But I understand. You don’t like being under the collar. Being under my collar.”
She touched the necklace around her throat carefully. “Sometimes I don’t like the things it does, or the things you do with it. But I like you, and I mean, if it was you or someone else, I’m glad it’s you.”
Efrosin nodded. He looked way too solemn, way too worried. “I know – but it’s nice to hear. I didn’t screw this up too badly, then?”
“You didn’t screw it up too badly.” It was her turn to bridge the space between them, to pat his hand reassuringly. “No matter what your dad says. You’re doing pretty good, Eff.”
“I’m glad you think so. I’m glad you’ve come to think so.” His cheeks colored. “Without me telling you to think that, I mean.”
“Me, too.” She looked sideways. That had been a difficult two weeks, when he’d tried to order her to like how he was treating her. “I’m glad you got rid of most of the brain-bending orders, too.”
“Glad enough that, maybe… maybe you can stand to see me once in a while this summer, or later?”
Your mother wants grandchildren. Pania sighed. “Of course. Eff, I like you, I really do. You’re not very good at this Keeping thing… you’d think you’d be better, considering how many times you’ve done it, but you’re not. But I still like you. And…” Her stomach was large enough, now, that it practically constituted its own country. “Your kitten-goat here-”
“Hush, I’m being sweet.”
“Your kitten-goat here is going to need a dad of some sort, and I don’t trust that I’ll be as good as your mom was about finding one.”
“Ha. Well, Mom had help. Okay. Come here.” He patted the bed directly in front of him; Pania, still hating the pull of the orders on her brain, scooted as quickly as her satellite nation would allow, and then twisted as he gestured, until her back was to him.
“I know you’re still in charge, but it’s a little late in the term for anything too kinky, Eff, unless you’re going to pretend to be a masseur and rub my back. The kit here is not going to like anything on my belly…”
She fell quiet, and then wished desperately that he hadn’t silenced her, as his fingers worked the clasp on her necklace-collar. What…?
“This is going to suck, and I apologize preemptively. But it would suck more if I waited and let graduation do it.”
No, nono, no, no, no. She swallowed hard and grabbed for his hands, stuck in place by the orders and silenced and damnit, Efrosin!
He kept talking, taking fast, as if trying to speed up the pain. “Pania cy’Solomon, I release you. You are your own person now.”
She shook her head, no, no, no. She opened her mouth and no words came out. No?
“Pania? Pania? Look at me?”
She turned to look at him, still shaking her head. No, no, no.
“Pania, you have to agree to it. It won’t take hold until you agree.”
I don’t want to agree. Don’t let me go. Don’t let me go.
His expression softened. “Panny, honey, the bond is pushing you. But it’s going to break either way at graduation. At graduation, Panny. Here, I can hold you through the worst of it.”
No. No, not then. Not ever. Somewhere in the sane, rational part of her brain, she knew that this was ridiculous. She’d just said it, just a few minutes ago. She didn’t really like being Kept that much. She didn’t like being jerked around by the bond.
Jerked around by the bond. That’s what was happening. She took a deep breath – a silent breath, still silenced. She really hated being silenced. She nodded, slowly. Okay. Not okay, not okay at all. But okay… ish. In that horrible way.
She tilted her hand back and forth sideways. Okay enough.
“Okay, pretty Pania. I release you. You no longer Belong to me.” He patted her shoulders. “I release you.”
She nodded, slowly. She coughed, and found she could again.
And then everything shattered. She could cough. She could cough, noisily, which meant she wasn’t Kept.
She wasn’t Kept, which meant she wasn’t his. She wasn’t anyone’s. She was. She was… something. Free. It didn’t feel like free, it felt like free-falling, dropping without a net. Like everything holding her up was gone.
She swallowed, and was mortified to find that she was swallowing a sob. The second one was voiced. The third one was a wail.
“Easy, easy. I’ve got you, Pania. I’m still here.” Efrosin wrapped his arms around her, and urged her to lean against him. “I’m here for you.”
She swallowed another sob, and then stopped fighting it and let the tears come. “It hurts.” She whimpered into Efrosin’s shoulder. “Why does it hurt?”
“I don’t know, Panny, but it always does. I’m sorry, honey, I’m so sorry. If it’s any help, if it’s any help at all, it fades, it fades fast. Well, relatively fast.”
“It feels like my world is ending.” She sobbed again. “I’m not usually this melodramatic. But it really does, it really does feel like everything is just falling apart. Like I’ll never be whole again.” She looked at him, tilting her head to see him properly, as close up as they were. “But the bond is over, I don’t Belong to you anymore.” She swallowed hard. “I don’t Belong to you anymore. Now what happens?”
He was smiling at her. Smiling. Smiling at her pain. She wanted to hit him. But she didn’t. “What?”
“Now, Pretty Pania, you get to decide what happens next.” He kissed her cheeks.
“But…” She flailed. “I feel like I don’t have anything anymore. Like someone pulled up all my roots and left me hanging in the air.” She took a long breath. “How can I make any decisions? I don’t even know who I am, anymore.”
“But it will fade.” He ran his hands over her back. “It will pass, and when it does, you’ll be the strong and beautiful woman you were before I Kept you – you were while I Kept you.”
“Why weren’t you ever this eloquent while I was wearing,” she swallowed another sob, “wearing your collar? While I was yours?”
He chuckled. “Sometimes I was, when we were playing. I’m not good at it, normally.”
She couldn’t help but smile. Efrosin… Efrosin liked roleplaying in a way that still made her a little creeped out.
“So is this a role? The gallant charmer comforts the sad lass? That leads to sex, usually, doesn’t it? Of course, most things lead to sex…”
“I like sex.” He kissed the side of her neck gently. “But, remember, it’s your choice too, now.”
She peeked at him. “You are playing a role.”
He rolled his shoulders backwards. “Come on, Panny, I’m trying.”
“I know you are. I know you are, Eff.” She hugged his shoulders gently, and found herself clinging. “But I like Efrosin better than the roles.”
“The roles know what to say.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “Being me, being me is just like… fumbling, like my dad said. A kid.”
She swallowed. “Eff, I like you, okay? I mean, really. And right now – I don’t think I can handle make-believe. The real world is hard enough.” She swallowed, and let out a weak laugh. “The real world. The real world is the place where I can end up as a magical slave for a school year and then be crying when it ends.” She shook her head, and let enough laugh out, one that sounded pretty much hysterical. “What’s happened to my life? How is this real?”
“Easy, easy.” He patted her shoulders. “Don’t forget the hooves and the horns, Pretty Pania. Or the kitten-goat, or the boyfriend with the cat ears.”
She stroked his ear, watching the way it twitched. “Boyfriend?”
“If you want? I mean, I graduate in four days… but there’s nothing saying I have to leave the Village. Right away, at least. I want to stick around until the kit is born, at the last. Until September, really, if you’ll have me. And then…”
“And then?” She tilted her head. Thinking about the future was easier than thinking about the present and the gaping hole in her heart. “I’ll still be in school. And I still have one grad requirement I need to take care of.”
He stroked her cheek. “I know. And you should probably try Keeping someone. It’s the way the school works – it’s the way the fae work. The collar, the Belonging – it’s all about the Name, and you need to learn both sides of that.” He sighed, his breath warm on her neck. Her naked neck. Pania brought a hand up to the other side, rubbing her skin. It seemed like there should be a scar, a ridge of rubbed-raw skin something. But the skin was as smooth as it had been in September. “I’m not going to deny it’ll be he hard, watching you with someone else – seeing this belly full of someone else’s kit…”
“You’re being creepy, Eff.” It seemed like she’d been saying that all year. He was creepy, sometimes. But she… she still liked him, didn’t she? She took a few more breaths. “So you’d be jealous.”
“I would be jealous. But this is Addergoole.” He wormed down until he could kiss her belly. “Where you can end up a magical slave for a year and then end up keeping slaves. And you can end up pregnant either way. Will end up pregnant both ways, probably.” He stroked her belly, and worked his way up to her breasts, cupping them in his hands. “I am … I’m very fond of you, Pania, Pretty Pania.”
“Very fond.” Her mouth was dry. She swallowed, trying to wet her throat. “That sounds sort of creepy.” It didn’t. It sounded distant, like a role, or like he was trying to make some sort of space between them. “It sounds weird.”
“I’m sorry.” He patted her shoulder. “I’m really bad at this. I’m creepy. The cat gets in the way, or I get in my own way. I’m not even sure which is which.”
Pania tilted her head. Looking up at him, she could see his chin, and the underside of his nose. She could see his eartips poking over the curve of his face, and the edges of his teeth – his fangs – barely covered by his lips. “The cat. You never said that. I mean, you said something about the pan, for me, but I always thought you were kidding. Or, I don’t know, giving me another role to play.”
He smiled, showing all of his teeth, all of the sharp feline fangs. “Would that I was, pretty Pania. No, the Change gave you that role.” He stroked the edge of her horns, and the soft curve of her faun ears. “I don’t know, for sure, how this colors your personality. But I know how the cat colors mine.”
She swallowed again, and nodded. “Why didn’t you ever say anything? Why didn’t you…” Her throat was still tight; she had to struggle to get the words out. But it was getting easier with every sentence. “Why let me go all year not knowing this? You weren’t-”
“I wasn’t the sort of Keeper that withheld information, I know. Well, I tried not to be.” He kissed her forehead. “You had enough to deal with the first year – and I was paying attention.”
She chuckled, the laugh coming close to the edge of hysteria. “You were paying attention. And what about the rest? It’s not like everything is right out there in front for you to see.”
He smiled, now – not looking smug but not looking worried, either. “I talked to your Mentor. Our Mentor. It’s a lot harder to hide things from Professor Solomon than it is from me. And, Pania… you knew the Keeping was messing with your head. I made sure to make that clear. And it’s hard to tell, when you’re Kept-”
“Like you said, what’s the cat and what’s you? So trying to sort out what was the bond, what was the Pan, and what was me…” She sighed. “Okay. You were trying to help.”
“And, if you’ll let me, I can help you work out the rest. Or your Mentor can.” He patted her hair gently, and then pulled his hand back. “I should stop… stop touching you without asking.”
“I don’t mind.” She scooted back closer to him. “It feels nice.”
“Right now, you don’t mind. But I should get out of the habit. You’re not mine anymore.” His voice caught strangely, almost like a cat-growl.
“I’m not yours anymore.” They kept coming back to that. But every time they did, it hurt a little bit less. “But you said something about being my boyfriend?”
“If I was a good guy, I’d give you a week to think about it.” Efrosin smiled sadly. “But I’m sort of worried if I do, you’ll change your mind.”
“You’re not asking for a promise or anything, are you?” She wasn’t sure she could do that right now. “‘Cause that would be sort of unfair.”
“It would be. No. Just an agreement.”
“You just freed me. Dumped me.” She had to remind herself of that. “Let me go. And now you want to be my boyfriend?”
“Yes, no, yes, and yes.” He grinned at her. “I freed you, because it’s not fair to Keep you more than a year, and because I’m going to be graduating in a few days – so you’d be freed anyway. I really didn’t want you to have to get hit in the face with the whiplash while I was walking across the stage. I didn’t dump you, I just, ah, opened up our relationship to renegotiation. I let you go – I guess, mostly from the collar, not from anything else. And I want to be your boyfriend, if you’ll have me.”
“This is… nuts.”
“Addergoole.” He smirked. “Addergoole, being fae. Addergoole, where you can be a magical slave for a year and it’s normal.”
“Addergoole.” She took a deep breath. “Where it’s abnormal for a relationship to last longer than a year. Like Adelheid and her guy, right?”
“Anwell? Yeah, he was a weird case, really weird, since she Kept him. I was really surprised that she put a collar on Llew, too.”
“I think he was, too. Llew’s kinda weird.” She shrugged. “So. You want to be my boyfriend.” It sounded odder every time she said it. “You want to, I dunno, date me, and you want me to Keep someone else next year. And probably get pregnant by them.”
“That pretty much sums it up.” He smirked a little bit. “I know, it’s a bit much and everything-”
“It’s not that. So, is this a totally non-exclusive dating thing you want, then?”
“Hunh?” Efrosin blinked. “Non… oh. Hunh.” He showed his teeth for a moment. “You are a pan, aren’t you?”
“‘Pretty Panny.’” She quoted it back at him, even though that hadn’t been what she wanted. “If you want me off with someone else, what are you going to be doing while I’m there?”
“While you’re… what… oh.” His cheeks colored. “That’s what you meant. Well, what do you want?”
“What do I want?” They were starting to sound like a really short game of Telephone, or that annoying Stop Repeating Me thing. “If I’m going to date you, I want to be dating you.” She tapped him on the nose. “You. And that’s not fair to a Kept. Being Kept by Adelheid – I know Llew tries not to show it, but it really messes him up sometimes. That’s not going to be that much fun for him.”
“You know…” Efrosin looked thoughtful. “If you Kept a boy and a girl, we could just share, the two of us, and both of them.”
“That sounds kind of kinky.”
“It sounds a bit out there.” He grinned. “But it would solve the problem. We could both pay lots of attention to both of them, and they’d have each other to hang out with, too…”
“And I’d have one really crowded room.”
“You can usually talk the staff into giving you a suite to share with your Kept, if you ask the right way.”
“And you’d be, what, living in the Village?”
“Well, I’ve got Barabbas out there – that’s Reese’s son. My son with Reese.”
“…You named your son Barabbas?”
“Yeah, yeah. I wasn’t stoned, I promise. It was just the vision, and then…” He shook his head. “Generally, we call him Ricky. Reese might have Regine and Hayley finesse the papers so the kid can go to school under that name and, you know, not his given name, and I won’t really complain. If Reese decides to keep custody – the squirrel isn’t really sure on that point.”
“Is the squirrel sure on any point?”
“Once in a while, usually involving something that really really needs to be hidden somewhere until later when it will be really, really important.”
“Heh. Barabbas, really?”
“Well, technically, it means ‘son of the father,’ and, well, he’s sort of the son of two fathers – sort of?” Efrosin shrugged. “But I saw the vision, and that was the name when I opened the book, the one that fit.”
“So, should I count on having a kitten-goat named like Pontius Pilate or something?” She cupped her hands under the curve of her stomach. “I begin to see why Regine would help people forge paperwork for schools.”
“I think it’s sort of common in Ellehemaei.” He shrugged, his ears twitching. “I was in school with Shahin, Emrys, and Mea, and Shahin’s name was really Merlin and Mea’s was really Morvyyd.”
“…Okay?” Pania blinked. Where was he going with this? “Morvyyd seems like a mean name for a kid, but Merlin seems worse, for a daughter.” Maybe even as bad as Barabbas.
“They’re all from Arthurian myth, too. Like Accalon and Agravain and Ambrose.”
She’d met all three of them. Two of them were in a crew together. “Is this like Arna and Rory are related to half the school?”
“There’s a good chance, yeah. Ambrose doesn’t like talking about it, and Accalon and Agra don’t like each other, so it’s hard to tell. Shahin and Emrys, on the other hand, were totally open about being brother and sister – and married.”
“And married?” She scooted back from Efrosin a couple of inches. “This place is messed up.”
“It is. But, really, my point is, Regine and Hayley – you’ve met her secretary, right?”
“Yeah. At the beginning of the year.” It seemed a lot further away than that. “I was complaining about my pod. I wanted a room closer to the people I’d met on the plane.”
“Yeah?” Efrosin smirked. “Who was that?”
“ Quint and Wylie.” She shrugged. “And Shang.”
“Wylie was in this pod, wasn’t he?” He tilted his head towards the pod door.
“Yeah.” She smirked tiredly. “By the time I got here, everyone was Kept. Maybe next year we can hang out.”
Efrosin’s lips twisted in a frown. She found it interesting that it didn’t hurt to see him make that face anymore, but it still bothered her, somewhere, like a memory of pain. “Zeke and Niassa aren’t bad people. They probably would have let you hang out with your friends…”
“But you got possessive, and most of my friends are guys. As much as they’re my friends, I mean.” She shrugged. “I didn’t have a good chance to get to know anyone before I got collared. So now I know… Arna’s crew, mostly, and the Elf-get. And you.”
“Panny…” He sighed. “I apologize. I owe you one for that. Will you still consider being my girlfriend? Or letting me be your boyfriend?”
“And keeping a pair for us to share?” She shook her head. “Doesn’t seem like that’s all that fair to anyone.”
“If you treat them well, if I treat them well…”
“Eff, I really don’t know. I’m sorry, but I really don’t.” She ran her hands over each other, just for something to do. “I mean… let’s try it for the summer, how’s that? And we can talk about whether or not I’m going to share a Kept with you then… and talk about what’s good for the Kept.”
“You’re really worried about the well-being of this future guy.”
“Or girl, or both. Efrosin, your fangs are showing.” She kissed his cheeks. “And you want me to Keep someone… and Keeping is about being responsible for your Kept. Remember? That’s what you told me. You take them under your Name and your well-being.”
He sighed. “Yeah. Yeah. All right. My Pretty Pania… Not mine, anymore. But Pania. We’ll work this out. If you want to, we’ll work this out.”
It was nice, for a few more minutes, to believe that he was going to take care of everything. Pania let out a deep breath and settled into his arms. “Okay.”
Saturday, June 26, 2004
The Auditorium was set up with chairs, the way it had been only twice since Pania had come here. It wasn’t that full, but, strangely, there were adults in the front four rows of seats. Pania hadn’t seen this many adults since she got here.
She sat behind a tall woman, whose long black hair flowed over the back of the seat. Next to the woman was a broad-shouldered blond biker sort, next to an equally broad-shouldered, equally biker-like brunette guy, their black leather looking out of place at a graduation – if you ignored the horns curling out of the blond’s hair.
“Pania.” Efrosin’s mother and father slipped into the seats next to her. Efrosin’s mother – Mrs. MacCon – reached out towards Pania’s stomach, but paused before her hand touched the curve. “May I?”
Because she’d asked, and because she was Efrosin’s mom, Pania nodded.
“We weren’t sure you’d be here.” Mr. MacCon sounded pleased – no big surprise there. “Efrosin told us that he released you from the collar. And he wasn’t sure how it went.”
Pania couldn’t help but smile. “I’m not surprised he wasn’t. Eff isn’t ever really sure about much when it comes to me.”
“Eff isn’t sure of much when it comes to relationships, ever. But it went… tolerably?”
She thought that Mr. MacCon looked a little worried. “I think so. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too, I suppose. But he’s kind of like that.”
“Will you consider visiting over the summer, at least?” Mrs. MacCon spoke almost over the end of her husband’s words. “Even if you and Efrosin can’t work things out? And Joseph, I don’t know why you can’t be nice about your son. Talk him up a little bit instead of making him sound like a juvenile delinquent.”
“Pania has been living under Efrosin’s collar for almost the entire school year, Elanor. If I make him sound like a well-balanced young man, she’ll know that I’m full of shit.”
Pania couldn’t help but giggle. “It’s okay, Mrs. MacCon. He’s right. And I’ll come visit, if I can figure out a way. It might be better if we visited for Thanksgiving? I mean, carrying the kitten-goat on an airplane at one or two months old seems like a really bad idea.”
Mrs. MacCon smiled sheepishly. “That’s a good point, dear, I’m sorry. I just get very excited about the prospect of grandchildren.”
“Well, while we’re here, we could visit Barabbas, you know.” Mr. MacCon patted his wife’s knee. “And we could, if Pania didn’t mind, always visit her during the summer – or during the school year; Eff tells me he’s planning on sticking around the Village for a little while.”
“Ah! Yes, dear, what are you doing for the summer?”
“Staying here.” Pania sighed. “Home is on the other coast, and I really can’t travel like this. But my parents say they’re going to come visit for a couple weeks, too.” She chewed on her lip. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind if you guys visited. I’m due the first week of July – Independence Day kitten-kid, if I’m lucky.”
“And Efrosin says you’re expecting a boy?”
“That’s right.” She nodded. The lights were dimming; the graduation was about to start.
“Wonderful, honey. Before we leave, I have a bit of a present for you. Call it bringing the baby shower to you, if you will.”
The lights on the stage went out, as Pania’s stomach twisted oddly. “Thank you.” She whispered it under the Director’s welcoming speech. “Thanks.”
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Wylie sat near the back of the Auditorium, between Lemon and Cody and near Yolanda. His stomach was twisting, and he couldn’t stop fiddling with his collar.
“It is my pleasure, Ladies, Gentlemen, and other kind folks, to welcome you to the graduation of the Sixth Cohort of the Addergoole West School. As is our tradition, those who Mentored these students will announce their Names to you – and via you, to the world of the Ellehemaei as a whole. We will proceed in alphabetical order, beginning with Abaddon cy’Caitrin.”
Only then were the rows of Mentors visible, standing behind the Director. Dr. Caitrin stepped forward, holding a ribbon-wrapped diploma. “Abaddon cy’Caitrin, once called Abaddon sh’Joie, step forward.”
Abaddon, looking very graduate-like in black robes, stepped onto the stage, and bowed to his Mentor. She bowed back, and held out the diploma.
“You step now from the ranks of Students to the ranks of Adults.” She spoke for a moment in a different language, one Wylie didn’t recognize. He squirmed, trying to find Niassa. N was a long way down the alphabet. He was going to have to sit through everyone else to see her walk across the stage. Well, almost everyone else; he wouldn’t have to wait for Zita and Tess, at least. Or Zeke or Sylvanus. Or… “I give you what you have earned, Abaddon, your Name. Walk out of here an Adult, Abaddon called the Hidden Blessing.”
Hidden Blessing. Wylie wondered what his Name would be, if he ever managed to graduate. Hopefully not something that sounded like a Hallmark card. Maybe something tough, like Fang.
What would Niassa’s Name be? She hadn’t told him anything, except that her Mentor and she had “discussed it.” So he guessed it was something they could talk about. Dr. Mendosa was pretty reasonable about talking through things. She should be – she wasn’t only his Mentor, she was a shrink.
“Abednego cy’Pelletier, once called Abednego sh’Dorcey, come forward.” Professor Pelletier had taken the mike. It was going to be a long time until they got to N.
Wyle leaned back in his chair and watched the show. Fang. He was going to be Named Fang.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?