July 31, 2013 by Lyn
July 23, 2004
“I know, Mom. I’ll be home as soon as I can. But I can’t really take Pandra on a plane.” Æowyn had the phone balanced between her ear and her shoulder, said Pandra in a carrier against her chest, while she tried to pack everything they would need into to suitcases.
“Pandra?” Her mother’s – foster-mother, but the woman who had raised her, at any rate. “Who’s Pandra and why can’t they come on a plane?”
Æowyn sighed. It wasn’t as if her mother could be ignorant about what Addergoole was about. She’d raised Æowyn; she’d sent her to this place; she’d lied about the whole thing, telling her it was some sort of high-education private prep school for bright, up-and-coming young students. “Pandra, Mom, is my daughter. She was born in early June; she’s got my blue eyes and her father’s nose, and she’s absolutely adorable. And before you ask, her name means ‘chief dragon.’ Her fath… sire thought it was amusing.” She could get away with a little less for herself, maybe fourteen changes of clothes, but Pandra made messes in clothes like it was her job. Which, she supposed, it was.
“Dragon, hrrm? Your birth mother was – is, probably – a snake-sort.” If anything, Æowyn’s mother sounded thoughtful. “I assume it’s spelled with all English letters, at least?”
Æowyn smiled. She’d asked the same thing. “All English letters, and not an accent or a tilde to be seen. Spelled the way it sounds, even, and sounds the way it looks. She’ll do fine in school.”
“Did you negotiate that with the young man in question? I assume he’s a young man, of course, and not one of the teachers?”
“He’s… young, and male, yes. Not one of the teachers. Mom!” Æowyn shook her head at the phone, making the phone shake and Pandra burble.
“Well, it has been known to happen, now, hasn’t it?” Her mother made it sound so reasonable. Æowyn sighed again.
“Well… yeah. Yeah, Lemon just had twins by the Literature professor, and, from the sounds of things, it’s not the first time he’s gotten a student pregnant. But with Professor VanderLinden-”
“Mike? How is Mike doing? Or is it Michelle right now?”
“…Mom?” Mike. Hunh.
“Oh, honey, just because I didn’t get pregnant doesn’t mean I didn’t spend time around the school and the project. Now, are you coming home with little Pandra, and, if so, are you bringing the young man who fathered her?”
“I’m getting on a train tonight with Pandra, yes, Mom. I’m packing as we speak.” She bounced a little to get a coo out of the baby. “I’ll call you when I get to the station, or I can take a cab.”
“Don’t be silly, you can call me. You are not taking my first grandbaby on a cab ride before she’s a year old.”
Her mother could be a little ridiculous sometimes. “Okay, Mom. I’ll call.”
“And the young man?”
“He and I… aren’t exactly speaking right now.” She rubbed her bare neck, and wondered how much she wanted to tell her mom – how much she wanted to say on the phone, how much she wanted to save for later, in person, how much she never wanted to say to anyone. “It wasn’t a great year for us.”
“Æowyn, do not allow your personal feelings to get in the way of your child having a father.”
“Mom, I have three more years. I can do what Dad did, and pick a reasonable second parent for both kids.”
“Æowyn, that is unfair, and you know it. Besides, you might end up having a decent relationship with this young man after a while.”
“Mom, I don’t think Dr. Avonmorea really likes us having two kids with the same dad, for one. For another, he’s a year older than me, so there’s at least the last year of my school where he won’t be around. For another, he’s a controlling asshole who doesn’t have any idea how to have an actual relationship that doesn’t involve a collar.” She rubbed the back of her neck again, and resisted the urge to pop her jaw.
“A collar.” Her mother’s voice shifted immediately. “Oh. Well, in that case, dear, you’re probably better off finding someone else. He sounds a bit like your biological mother.”
“My bio mom is a controlling asshole?” She made kissy faces at Pandra, who was too young to really appreciate it, and sighed at her mom. “Do you think I can get away with three weeks’ of changes of clothes for the baby?” She was having trouble getting more than that stuffed in the suitcase, as tiny as Pandra’s clothes are.
“Honey, if you tell me what size she’s in, by the time you get home, I will have another three weeks of clothes for her, a crib, and anything else you need for the summer.”
“Mom, you don’t have to…”
“Do not be silly, Æowyn. I might not have to, but I am going to enjoy the heck out of it. It’s a grandmother’s right.”
“All right, all right. I’m all packed then. I should be home tomorrow night around eight; I’ll call when we get close.”
“Are you going to want your friends to know that you’re home?”
“Hunh.” She looked down at the baby, then over to the mirror, where her unMasked face showed fangs. “I’m not sure yet, Mom. It’s been a sort of crazy year.”
“I can understand that, dear. Well, I’ll hold off, then. I’ll tell your father when to expect you, and I’ll go over to [town] to do some shopping. That way, I don’t have to worry about any gossip getting around.”
“Mom, you’re the best. I’m sorry I forgot Mother’s Day.” Now so much forgot as had been fighting with Fafnir a lot, but the two were close enough.
“And Father’s Day, dear, but you’re forgiven. I know that your first year away from school can be hard under normal circumstances, and it doesn’t sound as if you had remotely normal circumstances.”
“Ha. No.” She tucked the last onesie away. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Mom?”
“I look forward to it. Travel safely, dear.”
Friday, July 23, 2004 – several hours later.
“All right, kiddo. Ready to go?” Pandra was tucked into her carrier/car seat, all the luggage was as compactly packed as Æowyn could manage, and the rest of the room had been rearranged for the fifth time. She wasn’t sure if it was some nesting instinct or something else, but she kept having the urge to change the way things looked to be more comfortable. Even though she wouldn’t be back for a month or more.
Pandra made gurgling noises, and then a squeaking sound as a knock thudded on the door.
“That can’t be Luke. I told him I could make my own way to the Jeep.” She pulled the door open. “I told you I could… Fafnir.” She shifted her body to put herself between him and the baby. “What are you doing here?”
He looked uncomfortable. Uncomfortable like he often looked when talking to Cynara. She hadn’t expected that. Of course, she hadn’t expected him to knock on her door, either. They’d had that talk after he’d named Pandra.
“I heard you’re taking the train home.”
She’d kick whoever had passed that along. “Yeah. In like twenty minutes.”
“Let me come with you? Please?”
“I’m not taking you to meet my parents. I have no desire to have you trying to make a relationship with my family or with me.” She rubbed the back of her neck, knowing it made her argument seem weaker. “I don’t want you tricking me into a collar again, Fafnir. Or a gag.”
“I haven’t put the gag on you in months.”
“Because Cynara threatened you. And she’s gone now, and so is Howard.” She reached for the door.
“Æo, please. I promise you, I won’t Keep you again while we’re in school. I don’t want to do this because I’m trying to hook up with you. I know you’re probably really mad at me, and I probably deserve a little bit of it. But the train can be dangerous.”
That, she hadn’t been expecting. “You’re worried about my safety?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“Well… yeah. Yes, it is kind of hard to believe. You weren’t exactly the most affectionate Keeper, Fafnir.”
“No. I was possessive, controlling, and protective, but not affectionate.” He shrugged. “I’m not good at affection. But I didn’t rape you, I didn’t beat you, I didn’t order your emotions or your thoughts, and I let you keep your friends. I’m not saying that that was being a good Keeper or anything, but I am saying that I can be concerned about your safety – and our kid’s safety.”
“Mmm.” Æowyn pursed her lips, considering. “No ulterior motives?”
“Wellll…” Fafnir’s shoulder-roll said it all. “I mean. I’m watching Keepers with their former Kept, and everyone’s a mess. And I can barely talk to Cya, and shit. But when we trained together, fighting, we worked out pretty well, yeah?”
“Yeah.” It was unwilling but it was true. She popped her jaw, thinking about the times they hadn’t worked out so well. Possessive controlling, and protective. He didn’t say it like he was proud of it, but he said it like it was okay, like he accepted that about himself entirely. Well, maybe he had. It was certainly an accurate assessment. “We fought together pretty well. Once you learned to cover your side.”
“Yeah, well.” He shrugged. “Look, I’m not trying to make things be the way they were, and I’m not trying to get in your pants right now, but maybe, I dunno, friends? Crew?”
“I do not want to be crew with Margherita.” The rest of the crew she could stand, but not that one. “She’s horrid.”
“She’s a mess, yeah. But she came with Jaelie.” He shrugged. “All right, not crew. Friends, maybe?”
“I’ll think about it. You really want to ride halfway across the country with me just to be sure Pandra and I are safe?” It seemed too good – or bad – to be true.
“And to get a chance to talk to you like normal people, out in the world and not dealing with collars. Yeah.”
“I’m still not bringing you home to meet my parents.”
“And that’s fine. I promise, that’s fine. I can do without that.” His smirk looked more like the Fafnir she was used to. “I’m not really all that domestic. But…” He reached out a hand, stopping at the edge of her threshold. “She Belongs to you; that’s the way the Law works. But Pandra is my daughter, too.”
“Mm. You don’t strike me as the paternal sort.” She wasn’t going to invite him in. That way led to trouble. But she was considering giving in. It was a train ride. There was only so much trouble he could cause her on a train. She hoped.
“You don’t strike me as the maternal sort. But Addergoole does that to us.”
She thought about it for a moment. “Cynara didn’t have your child, did she?”
“No.” Now the smirk got a little bit biter. The expression he often got when he was talking about Cynara. “No, she didn’t. She had Cabal’s. And Leofric’s. Not mine or Kheper’s.”
“Ouch.” She winced in sympathy. “I don’t know whether to feel worse for you or Kheper.” The mink had been showing, by the end of the year. “Either way – Pandra’s your first kid, too, isn’t she?”
“Yeah.” Fafnir’s whole body was leaning towards the door. “Let me come, Æo? I promise I’ll do whatever you say during the trip, if you do.”
“You’re serious.” She had to take a step backwards to really look at him.
“Like a heart attack.” He had his toes and his nose up to the edge of her Sanctity.
“Why? Are you that worried?”
“I’m…” He swallowed. “I’m a little worried I’m never going to see Pandra again. And that bugs me more than I thought it would, Æo. It bugs me a lot.”
She’d never seen him like this. She wanted to enjoy the power she had over him, but… She reached across her threshold to touch his hair. “Fafnir, I won’t keep Pandra from you, if it means that much to you. If you promise… and you did. Yes. You can come with us on the train.” She smirked faintly, amused at herself as much as at him. “But you’re carrying the suitcase.”
“I can carry more than one suitcase.”
“I know you can. But that’s what I need you to carry.” She grabbed the heavier suitcase and pushed it through her threshold at him.
“So that’s how it’s going to be?”
“You agreed to do things my way. You want to protect me. Fine.” She shrugged, and turned her back on him to pick up Pandra and the other suitcase. “I don’t mind the protection, truth be told. The world is a lot darker out than it used to seem, and I have this tiny little thing here to take care of. Having someone to watch my back is nice.” She turned back to him, unsurprised to find that he hadn’t moved. “So, yeah, I’ll take the support and the company. But I’m not sure about the rest, yet.”
“The rest?” He picked up his suitcase as if he was on badly-controlled puppet strings, every move shaky and jerky.
“I’m not sure I want to be your friend. I’m not sure I want to fight battles with you – if we end up having more battles to fight together, which I’m really hoping we don’t, at least not in school. I’m not sure about the whole crew thing, even if it didn’t involve Margherita. I’ll let you be in Pandra’s life. That’s all I’m sure of so far.”
“I’ll take it.” He tilted his head down the hall. “The Jeep bay?”
“Yeah. Luke’s waiting for me.” She sounded like she had when she was Kept, she realized: there’s an adult who wants something. They’ll be upset if you stop me or keep me from doing whatever it is I’m trying to do.
Fafnir’s lips quirked upwards. “That’s what I did, when I was Kept. I made it all about someone else. Some adult. Cynara was big on not upsetting the adults, but by then, the staff had started getting worried about Boom.” He voiced her thoughts far too accurately, even now. Especially now.
“I can’t imagine why.” She had watched Boom take down monsters without even flinching, and they were fourth-year students. She could – barely – imagine what they’d be like after a decade out in the world. “Sometimes I wonder if they want us to have kids just to slow us down for a few years. They teach us so much in four years here, if Boom is any indication-”
“I don’t think Boom is really any indication of anything except themselves. They’re… something else.”
Æowyn coughed out a laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good word for them.” She shifted the weight of Pandra. The baby herself didn’t weigh much, but the carrier and all the accoutrements tripled the load.
“I can carry her.” He stepped towards her, and stopped, looking hesitant. She found she disliked him looking hesitant even more than she disliked him being smug.
“Be careful. Okay?” She passed over the carrier. He took it with exaggerated caution, shifting the suitcase to his off hand.
“I saw her through her Naming night, you know. I can handle carrying her in a car seat.”
“I know. But I’m allowed to worry. She’s my responsibility.”
“Responsibility. Ha.” He snorted. Before Æowyn could take offense, he turned a smile on her. A real smile, the sort she hadn’t seen since he first put a collar around her throat. “I think this school raises the most responsible teenagers the world has ever seen. Kids. Keeping. Education.”
“Drugs. Slavery. Massive powers.” She flapped her free hand. “Keeping.”
“You said that already.”
“I know. Same general idea.” She opened the door to the Jeep bay for Fafnir. “Did you do your promises?”
“‘I swear not to reveal the secrets, yadda yadda? Yeah, I did the Boy Scout promise last year. I mean, they don’t let you leave, otherwise.”
“Imagine if you never did it? Like maybe the basementers?”
“Staying here forever? I heard there was a Fifth Cohort still here – Channing – but I didn’t see her all year.”
“Was her power being invisible?”
“Ha, no. She’s a blowfish. But Cynara said there was a First Cohort who lasted until her – Cynara’s – first year, too. But I think both of those were grad requirement issues.”
“Ouch. ‘No, seriously, I’m not going to have another kid?’”
“It’s not recommended.” Luke’s voice preceded him out of the shadows. “In Juniper’s case – the First Cohort – she had a strong reason for not wanting another child. It was a shitty, horrible situation which will not happen again. Channing just made the mistake of Keeping Curry.”
“The tree boy that…” Æowyn had only heard rumors. “Self-fertilizes or something?”
“Something like that. That worked out badly for her.”
“Oof.” Fafnir sounded sympathetic. “If I’d known, maybe we could have worked something out.”
“With the Keeper you had last year? Probably not.”
“Are you along to carry the baby, Fafnir? I can handle that from here.”
“I’m riding along on the train. Æowyn said it was all right.”
“Æowyn?” Luke turned to her with his eyebrows raised.
“I did.” She smirked a bit. “He promised to behave. And I won’t mind the company.” Company sounded a little less weak than protection.
“As long as you’re sure you’re all right.”
“I’m sure. He knows how to change diapers – or if he doesn’t, I can teach him really quickly.”
“I know.” Fafnir sighed. “Cynara had Yoshi the year before she Kept me, remember?”
“That’s right. You’ll do fine with your own kid.”
“Come on, then We don’t have all day.” Luke loaded the luggage into the back of the SUV. “Fafnir, you’re in front with me. Æowyn, you and Pandra in the back seat. Now, kids. We need to get out of here before the train leaves. This isn’t Grand Central Station here.”
“Yes, sir.” She buckled Pandra’s seat in, hoping they were doing the right thing.
Saturday, July 24, 2004 – very early in the morning
The train trundled along the countryside, slowing for the cities and speeding along through the cornfields like a tourist. Æowyn and Fafnir sat facing each other in a small booth-like set of seat, Pandra buckled in near the window.
Sometimes people would walk by their booth, and glance in, smiling or frowning or otherwise passing judgement, but usually clearly making the assumption they were meant to make. With their Masks up, Æowyn supposed, they looked like a relatively ordinary (for The Breakfast Club) sort of couple: Æo in her crisp camp shirt and shorts, Fafnir in his Metallica T-shirt and jeans. They looked young, and Masking that away was a trick Æo hadn’t learned yet. They were young, and that had to cause both some of the smiles and some of the frowns. Too young for kids. Too young for love? Maybe the latter, but they were proof against the former.
“I think she disapproves.” Fafnir tilted his head at the older woman who had just walked down the aisle.
“Sometimes I disapprove. It doesn’t change anything.” She straightened Pandra’s blanket to avoid looking at Fafnir’s face.
It didn’t allow her to ignore his sigh, sadly. “Æo…”
“I was a lousy… boyfriend. I’m sorry.” He twitched his shoulders. “I tried to be good.”
“I know you did. But your anger ran away with you sometimes, and your baggage ran away with you more often.”
“My baggage.” He didn’t really make it a question, but she could see, out of the corner of her eye, how his hands twitched, as if trying to make fists. “You mean Cynara.”
“I mean everything. But yeah, Cynara. Every time anything happened, every time I had an opinion, I contradicted you… you were hearing her.” She made herself look at him. “And that made you angry, which made everything suck.”
“Ouch. I suppose I deserved that.” He played with a ring on his right hand, something she’d only seen him do a few times before. “So I sucked at it. How do I not suck at it in the future?”
“Well, I don’t think you’re going to have another chance to not suck at being my… boyfriend.” She put enough emphasis on the word to make it sound not-boyfriend enough. “And, besides, you promised.”
“But I could try not sucking at being your friend. Or I might want to be someone else’s… boyfriend.” He imitated her tone. In the seat behind Æowyn, someone coughed.
She didn’t blame them. She raised her eyebrows at Fafnir. “You want my advice on how to be someone else’s… boyfriend?”
“And on how to be your friend.”
“The one is easier than the other.” She made a gesture as if flicking water off her fingers – thoughts she didn’t want to deal with, gone. “The other is more comfortable than the one.”
“Which one is easier? And more comfortable?” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. She resisted the urge to lean backwards.
“Telling you how to be a better… boyfriend is easier.”
“Really?” He frowned. “Because you know that that’s a thing that could happen, hunh?”
“Yeah, in part. But it’s not really comfortable. Because that’s someone else’s life I’m talking about, you know.”
“I know.” He reached out as if to pat her knee, and paused. “May I?”
“I suppose.” A little humanoid touch wouldn’t kill her (probably), and she’d been missing that, if nothing else. “I won’t mind it, at least.”
He patted her knee carefully. “Will you try?”
“When I get back to school. Not here. Not…” She gestured, flicking her fingers at the bus with its human passengers and its human ambiance. “If you will, too.”
“Tell you how to be my friend? Or how to be someone else’s… girlfriend?”
“Both. Definitely both.”
She felt a little unkind, but it was worth a try. From the look on his face, Fafnir was feeling as conflicted as she had – which, surprisingly, didn’t make her feel either better or worse.
“I can do that. Both. Once you get back?”
“Once I get back.” She swallowed a yawn. “Should have had more soda.”
“Why don’t you catch a little sleep? We’ve got a while to go, don’t we?”
“Quite a while, yeah.” She snuggled herself more comfortably into the seat. “I might just do that, thanks. I think we’re safe, here.” She draped an arm around Pandra’s carrier, just in case, and whispered a Working that would wake her if the baby or the carrier moved. “We should wake up by the time we get to our stop.”
She woke up from a warm, fuzzy dream involving rabbits and a meadow and things best not shared outside of snake dreams. Fafnir was shaking her arm, not roughly, but with decided purpose. “Æo? Æo, wake up. Æo, shit, wake up.”
“Shit?” She blinked, suddenly awake. “What’s wrong? Pandra?”
“Is still asleep, she’s fine, I checked first. I drifted off…”
The conductor was announcing a stop. It happened to be three hours past Æowyn’s parents’ hometown.
“…oh. shit.” She sighed. “All right, come on. Unless you have worse news?”
“I don’t have a lot of cash on me?” He looked sheepish. She could handle sheepish, as long as it didn’t turn angry.
“We can work with that. You can pay me back.” She smiled wickedly at him; let him sweat a little bit. “My fault, I should have set an alarm. Come on.” She unbuckled Pandra and started towards the exit with the smaller suitcase. “Grab the luggage.”
“What are we going to do?”
He, she recalled, was from somewhere on the other coast. She smiled at him, enjoying herself despite the predicament they were in. “Improvise.”
Sunday, July 25, 2004
“Come on, Sylvia. It’ll be good for you.” Gar tugged, very lightly, on Sylvia’s wrist, urging her towards the beach. She didn’t so much resist as fail to cooperate at all.
“I am uncertain if I like the beach.”
“But you’re not sure you don’t like it, right?” He shifted his grip to her hand. “Give it a try, please?”
“Why are you doing this?” She was wearing a t-shirt over her swimsuit, which didn’t surprise him, her small pregnant bump not Masked, which did surprise him. “I released you.”
“And then you agreed to come on vacation with me.”
“I have not been on… vacation… before. I thought it could be educational.”
“Well, and isn’t it?” Gar couldn’t help a smile. “You’re learning you’re okay cuddling with someone you don’t have, you know, under control.”
“Only when it is you. And I am not certain ‘okay’ is the right word.”
“It’s an approximation. Now you can learn if you like the beach.”
“Is this some sort of revenge for the past year?”
“Revenge?” He took her other hand and looked her in the eyes. She was serious. Of course she was serious. Sylvia didn’t joke. “No. No, this is me trying to make sure you have a good time, and that’s all it is. I like you, okay?”
“It’s been over a month. I’m fairly sure I really like you.” He kissed her cheek impetuously; Sylvia did not deal well with public (including hotel hallway) displays of affection.
She accepted this one, maybe because she was feeling insecure. “This is just for… fun, then?”
“It’s supposed to be fun for both of us. If you really want to skip the beach, we can put clothes on and go try the boardwalk instead? Or the museums. You like museums, right?”
“I like museums.” Having the option seemed to relax her. “Perhaps after the beach?”
“Museum after the beach sounds great.” Dealing with Sylvia was uncomfortably reminiscent of dealing with his little sister sometimes. “So, you okay with going out?”
“You’ll hold onto my hand?”
“Of course.” He smiled, trying to be sure she knew he was joking. “You won’t be able to get me to let go.”
“That is fine with me.” Sylvia did not sound as if she was joking at all.
“Awesome. Right this way.” He led her down the stairs and out onto the boardwalk. The Director’s secretary’s magic power had to involve room reservations, because they were just across the street from the beach in one of the best areas of the town. “Come on, right over here. We can lay our blanket out and then take a dip.”
“A dip?” Her hand clenched on his.
“Haven’t you… no. I know you’ve been swimming; I’ve seen you in the school pool.”
“That is different.” She twitched her hand at the ocean, stretched out in front of them. “That is… tame.”
“And, let’s be honest, you’re not. I know what you’re like, Sylvia.”
“You would not say I’m tame?”
“I wouldn’t say tame is the best word to fit you.” He picked a spot and dropped the blanket, spreading it out in a place that had a little bit of shade. Sylvia probably didn’t sunburn. He, on the other hand, turned into one stupid giant freckle. “Okay, here we go.” He added his shirt to the pile on the blanket. “You can leave yours on, if you want.”
“I… yes.” She’d reclaimed his hand as soon as his shirt was off.
“You’re going to be fine. And, if you’re not, we’ll come right back in. Come on.” Gently, he coaxed the otter-girl into the water.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?