August 15, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, August 2, 2004
“Thanks, Ms. Houston-”
“I told you, call me Anna.”
“Thanks, Anna.” Shang rolled his shoulders. Damaris’ parents were… well, something. Then again, Damaris was definitely something. If only Shang knew what.
“See, that was easy, wasn’t it? You know, you don’t have to let Damie bully you and push you around.”
“I…” His hand went up to the leather band around his throat. “I… don’t mind?” He tried it on for size, and found it wasn’t as much of a lie as it could have been. “I like Damaris.”
“Aaah.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m sure you do, and I’m sure it’s not easy to not let her push you around, but that doesn’t mean you… oh, you’re entirely lost, aren’t you, you poor boy?”
Shang glanced hopefully at the door, but Damaris was taking one of her hour-long showers, so he was pretty much stuck here with her mother. “Uh.” He shrugged, and decided honesty was the best bet. “I don’t, um, I don’t believe in magic.”
“You don’t… didn’t Damie say she picked you up at Addergoole?”
“Yeah.” He flopped into a chair, wishing she’d stop. “Yeah, she met me at Addergoole. And they have some pretty awesome effects, but I could do all of that with a big enough budget and complete control of the set – which they obviously have.” He shrugged. “It’s a more reasonable response than magic.”
“Fascinating.” She pulled up a second chair and straddled it, staring at Shang like he was some sort of interesting bug. “And why would they do such a thing?”
“I don’t know.” That had been bothering him all year. “Some sort of messed up thought experiment? See how teenagers deal when they’re told that they have godlike powers?”
“And how do you think teenagers deal with the possibility of godlike powers?” The thing was, she looked honestly interested. She also didn’t look like she thought he was insane. That was a new one, at least in the last year.
“Badly?” Shang shrugged. “Like most humans with power, I think. It’s a shiny new toy and you have to find out all the ways you can use it. It’s just, then we forget there’s people on the other end of the powers?” At least, that’s how it had felt, when he was in so-called magic classes.
“That’s an interesting take on it. And what about the Keeping?”
“The what?” He was pretty sure he knew what she was talking about, but he’d never – directly – heard it called that.
“Oh, honey. Damie has some answering to do, doesn’t she?”
“I… uh. She helped me get away from a mechanical crocodile.” He shrugged. “I promised her my soul or something.”
“Well, that was… well, if you don’t believe in magic, you probably don’t believe in binding promises.” Mrs. Houston – Anna – shook her head. “I’ll talk to Damaris. She needs to talk to you about these things.”
“Oh, you don’t have to…” He shook his head. “I mean… Uh. You don’t need to.”
“I know.” She smirked at him. Her voice lilted up in the faintest hint of music; Shang had been trying to place her accent since he met her and still hadn’t been able to get it. “However, it will please me, and it pleases me to interfere.”
“Ah.” He coughed. “Interfere, really?”
“Interfere, really.” Maybe Irish? After a long time in the U.S., though. “I call a spade a spade, Shang. And I like interfering.”
“Uh.” He coughed again. “Okay. I mean, she’s your daughter.” Somewhere in the bathroom, the water stopped. “And she’s done with the shower.”
“You have very good hearing.”
“I’ve got a good ear.” He shrugged. “I like music.” He gestured at the room he was staying in, where he’d brought as much of his music as Damaris had thought reasonable. “I tried to start a music club at school, but…”
“I can imagine, if a third of what I’ve heard about your school year is true, that it was not the best year for a music club. Perhaps next year?”
“Yeaaaaah. I mean, if I go back…”
“I do not believe you’ll be able to get away without going back.” And now the accent sounded British, but only very lightly so. She was watching him, with a question to the end of her sentence that she was pretending she wasn’t asking.
Shang didn’t understand people, but he understood voices. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get away with it, either. But it’s nuts there.” He’d stopped writing to his parents, when they hadn’t answered any of his letters asking to come get him. At the end of the school year, he’d called them just long enough to tell them that he was going home with his girlfriend. Talking to Damaris’ mom, however, was different. She hadn’t sent him to that nuthouse.
“Nuts?” And, unlike his unresponsive parents, she sounded interested. “The ‘magic,’ you mean?”
“Not just the magic. I mean, it’s weird enough that everyone there really seems to believe in the magic, but if I was going to set up a full-scale hoax, I’d make sure the actors could play along, too.” He shrugged. His spiel still sounded good, even if he was beginning to doubt a few of its tenets. “So, yeah. They want us to all believe that we’re going to a magic school for magical fairies with magical crocodiles, and so on. It’s pretty… well, nuts.”
“But that’s not what you really object to?”
Damaris was still in the bathroom. He dropped his voice anyway. “It’s the other stuff. The babies. I mean…” He stopped, as he ran into a mental block. Okay, he could try this from another direction. “I mean, the relationships all see a little bit over the top. All the older guys are so controlling…”
“And what about the older girls?”
“Hunh? Well, not Damaris. But some of my friends, they ended up with girlfriends who wouldn’t let them leave the room… and they just went along with that.” He was beginning to understand that last one, but that just made everything worse.
“So there were very controlling relationships going on, as well as everyone insisting that there was magic. Anything else?” Mrs. Houston leaned forward across the table, her own voice dropping down.
“Well…” He shrugged. “Then there were the… was the basement… and then there were the crocodiles and such.”
“The basement? And the crocodiles?”
“Hi, Damaris.” She was trying to sneak up on him. He didn’t know why, but he wished she’d stop. It was silly, and he could never tell if she was playing some game, if she wanted him to play along.
“Hi, Shang. Hi, Mom.” She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, still damp from the shower. “Telling Mom about the basement monsters?”
“Trying. I’m not really doing a good job of explaining it.”
“That’s the geasa and the orders.” She patted him on the shoulder. “The teachers don’t want us worrying our parents, I suppose.”
“Believe in magic, I know. But the problem is, the magic believes in you.” Her lips on the side of his neck were distracting, but not as much as what she’d said. The magic believes in you.
“That’s not fair.” He muttered it into his soda. Mrs. Houston kept the house stocked with plenty of good soda and even more good beer – but it was a bit early in the day for beer.
“Of course it’s not. Make a lap?”
He shifted his legs so she could settle down on them, with the little wiggle that was so much more distracting than the neck-kiss. And quieter.
“You were saying something about basement monsters?” Mrs. Houston’s accent was sharper now, and this time it sounded nearly German. “I toured the facility – we all did – back when you were, ah, when the project was begun. I don’t recall there being any monsters.”
“Well, you wouldn’t, would you?”
Shang thought hard and fast about what he could say and what he – inexplicably – couldn’t. He watched as Mrs. Houston’s eyebrows went up.
“I wouldn’t? I think I’d remember the giant crocodiles.”
“You would, if you’d seen that floor. If the Director and the Administration had been talking about that floor.” He thought a little more. “Well, they might have told you about the basement. But I don’t think they’d have been able to tell you about the sub-basement. I mean, unless they were lying about that, too. I suppose they could have been lying about that, too. Along with the magic and everything else. But I don’t know why they’d lie to make themselves look ignorant when they were all about knowing everything.”
“I don’t know why they’d lie about that, either. I mean, why would they put their… okay, they’d probably put their students in danger. I mean, you met Gregori last year.”
“I did. But I don’t think Gregori counts as a crocodile.”
“Ha. No, he’s… he’s not that bad, in the whole scope of the Addergoole experience. Would you say so, Shang?”
“Gregori? He’s the one dating… the skinny boy with the dog-ear hat?” He didn’t know anything at all about Gregori. He tried to stay away from the people who really, really got into the whole cosplaying monsters thing.
“Speed, yeah. Saluki, I think.” The last was clearly at Mrs. Houston. “I mean, I knew Gregori went both ways, the whole crew does. Let’s be honest, most of the school does.”
“So I’m getting the impression. But you were saying something about the students being in danger?”
“Yeaaaaah….” She trailed off. Shang was pretty sure where she was going, so he tried to pick it up.
“So, sometimes people get stuck in bad relationships? I think that’s what she means there. And the staff seems to like that. I mean, if what I heard from Kay is right – it really can’t be, can it…?”
“It probably is. Kay isn’t the sort to make stuff up.”
Damaris shrugged offhandedly. “What did she tell you?”
“I, um.” Shang wondered if there was a way to describe this that didn’t make him look like an ass. “I was giving her a little crap about getting pregnant in her first year in school.” No, apparently not. “I didn’t know…” …she’d been raped. Agravain had made her do what he wanted. Agravain had magically – yeah, right, but what can you say – knocked her up… “…anything.”
“You’re not supposed to your first year. It’s all right.”
“Not really.” He shrugged. Sometimes he had trouble explaining to Damaris that he didn’t like being a jerk. Even if he had told her he only dated humans. “It’s not all right to me, I mean.”
“Well… I’m sure Kay knew you didn’t mean anything by it?” She looked a little uncomfortable. She generally did when he contradicted her. But he still got to have his own feelings… didn’t he.
He shrugged uncertainly. He wasn’t really sure of anything anymore. “I dunno. I tried apologizing, but she didn’t want to talk to me at all.”
“Maybe try again when the collar’s off?” Damaris looked more and more uncomfortable. Shang reached up and touched the collar, wondering if he should just drop it.
“What is it that Akaterina told you, Shang? And Damie, I think you have some conversations to have with your young man when we’re done here.”
“When we’re done here, Damaris. Shang?”
Shang gulped. That didn’t bode well. “Uh. She said everyone had to have two kids to graduate, and Agravain had decided to take care of hers and his in one fell swoop.” He couldn’t really believe that. He could believe magic more easily than he could… no. No, he could believe a breeding project. He sighed quietly. “It makes everything else make sense.”
“…say that again?”
“It makes everything else make sense.” He repeated it dutifully. “What?”
Damaris was giving him a very strange look. He swallowed, and glanced at Mrs. Houston, who was looking at him… not quite as oddly as Damaris was.
“What?” Repeating himself probably wouldn’t help, but, then again, just staring at them wouldn’t either.
Damaris shook her head. “Shang, if you’ve found something that makes everything make sense for you, I don’t know whether to be thrilled or terrified.”
“Um.” He shrugged. “Well, I mean. If they want to breed us – for whatever reason, and I’m not even going to start in on the eugenics arguments, not now – then having us believe there’s magic, well, it gets us to start off with a suspension of disbelief. It’s just a major cult, you know, with all of the hallmarks thereof. Brainwashing, controlled environment, controlled diet…”
And that meant he knew why he’d started to believe some of it. He wasn’t going insane, not really. He had simply been pushed a little too far. “Let’s go down to the beach and get some ice cream.” Real sunlight, food that it would be hard for them to control, and a public environment where subsonics would be really hard to pull off.
Damaris shared a look with her mother. “Yeah, sure. That sounds like a good idea. And no talking about brainwashing while we’re there?”
“That would definitely be the preference. Come on, my treat.”
Tuesday, August 3, 2004
“Your mom said you had to explain something about the collar.”
Damaris had been skirting around that – and a few other things – since they got back from the beach the night before. Shang really wanted to just let her run with it, but there were to many questions still hanging, and this chain around his neck that sometimes, like now, really chafed.
Damaris rolled onto her back, sighing, pulling away from him. She didn’t do that often, especially not recently, but when she did, it left Shang feeling about half an inch tall and absolutely miserable. “She said I had to explain a lot of things. But so much of it, you’re just going to… I don’t know, debunk. And that gets really old.”
“I’m sorry.” He gestured lamely, knowing she wasn’t looking at him. “I mean, I can’t help doubting all this, and I really… really can’t pretend it’s all real. but I could be quieter about it?”
“It’d probably help you get through school. And I know it would help me cope.” He could feel her shrugging against him. “But I’d still know you were, you know…”
“Doubting. Yeah. I know. But can you maybe explain anyway? I’ll try to keep the doubting to a minimum, I guess?”
“Okay.” She sighed. “So, the collar.”
“This.” He ran his fingers over the necklace. Chain. Thing.
“That. And the one Akaterina was wearing, before, and… well, most of your friends.”
“Yeah. It seemed…” He cut himself off. Words she didn’t like included lame and creepy. “Like a trend?”
“Sort of.” Her laugh didn’t sound humorous at all. “So, it means you’re mine.”
“I said that. I agreed to be yours, because you saved me from the crocodile.” Or whatever it had been.
“And you don’t feel… different?”
“Brainwashing.” He shrugged, as much in defense as in doubt. “Or something, I don’t know. I mean, you’re the first girl to really…”
“I thought I might be. So you just feel…”
“Different, because I have a girlfriend. And because we’re out of school now, and so everything’s different all over again. I’m surprised they let us leave.”
“They don’t like to, but parents complain.”
“I bet mine wouldn’t.” He reached out to touch her shoulder, carefully. “Your mom is a lot cooler than my parents.”
“My mom is… my mom. She likes to interfere.” She leaned into his hand, so she couldn’t be all that mad at him.
“Yeah, she said that.” He shrugged. “I mean, my parents spent the whole year ignoring my letters or telling me to buck up.”
“Well, what were they going to do?” She turned back to him, frowning. Now she was frowning.
“Come get me? Let me come home and not go back to that nuthouse?”
“But then I wouldn’t have you.” She stuck out her lower lip and sulked at him.
Shang had no idea what to do when she did that. He kissed her lip, but she just pulled away. “Damie… Damaris… come on. you know what’s not what I meant.”
“Well, what did you mean, then? Mister only-dates-humans.”
“Hey, I said I was sorry for that one already!”
“Yeah, but I don’t think you meant it.”
“Why wouldn’t you think I meant it? I mean, I said it, I said it right, I meant it…”
“But you still think I’m crazy for believing in magic.”
“I never said that… are you trying to distract me from the collar thing?” She didn’t sound as angry as she looked, that was the problem. She had her face all twisted up, but there was a laugh trying to get out.
“I don’t know what you… yeah. A little. Is it working?” She let a smile out, if only a little. “I mean, sometimes your arrogance and cockiness really bugs me. But I’m not still mad about it, not really.”
“I’m glad.” He brushed his hand over her shoulder, and the spots that she only showed at school, or in the bedroom here at home. Even if they were fake, he liked them. He wanted to know how she managed to hide them so quickly – or paint them on so quickly, he still wasn’t sure which.
“Arrogance and cockiness, really?”
“You’re so sure that you know how the world works.”
“I’m… but…” He shook his head. “The world just works that way. It doesn’t have anything to do with me being cocky or arrogant. It’s just a world, and it works. Magic isn’t real.”
“And neither is mind control?” She propped herself up on an elbow to look at him.
“Well, brainwashing is real. Scientifically proven.” He stroked her arm again, wishing they could drop this. “And so’s Stockholm Syndrome. So yeah, mind control is a thing.”
“And that’s why you do what I tell you to?”
“I do what you tell me to because it makes you happy.” He let his hand fall still. “I wish you wouldn’t keep bringing that up.”
“It’s just…” She sighed, and flopped back down to the bed. “Okay, collar. So the collar.” She grabbed his collar and tugged, pulling him on top of her. He moved willingly, and not just because fighting against the collar hurt. “You’re mine.”
“I’m yours. You keep saying that.”
“I like you being mine. It’s neat.”
“I… Thanks, I think?” He put his knees to either side of her and propped himself up with one arm, just at the edge of her tug, so he could see her properly.
“The collar tells everyone else – well, every Ellehemaei…” She flapped her hand. “Okay, everyone else in school. It tells them you’re mine.”
“So, what, I don’t get ambushed by pretty girls wanting to kiss me?”
She yanked him down to her and kissed him, holding him there with one hand on the front of the collar and the other on the back of his neck. It was just about the hottest thing she did that he hated at the same time – and she did a lot of things like that.
“So you don’t get ambushed by people trying to make you theirs. Trying to hurt you. Are you telling me you went the whole first year with nobody trying anything at all?”
She hadn’t pulled back at all, or given him any slack, so she was talking straight into his lips. Shang swallowed, remembering Naberius. “There’s been a few,” he allowed. “But I wasn’t wearing a collar then, and nobody dragged me off into a dark corner.”
“Then you got really lucky. What do you think happened to Lee?”
“Lee?” Shang considered that for a moment. “You know, I never could figure that one out. I mean, I thought maybe he just went that way. I mean, Quint…” He pulled upwards a little bit; Damaris pulled downards
“Quint probably does go that way. Zeke’s a white hat.” She said it like it was a perversion. Shang just blinked at her.
“…like in the cowboy movies?” He’d seen a few dozen of those. Addergoole stocked a lot of them, for some reason. Well, Addergoole, being a bunker in the middle of nowhere, just stocked a lot of movies in general. Shang had watched most of them in the last year. Until Damie, he’d been watching at least a movie a night for months.
“Exactly like in the cowboy movies… hunh. I never thought of it that way.” She twitched her shoulders and gave him a couple inches of room.
“Where’d you get it from, then?” It seemed safer than asking anything else about the collars.
“Oh, Gregori and Hemlock and them. And things other people said about them. ‘Oh, your Keeper’s a black hat. Are you going to go white, or turn out just like him and his crew?’” She wrinkled her nose. “Then, of course ‘Agra and Kendon, hunh? Guess you decided to go black hat.’”
There was an old song of bitterness in her voice. He thought she’d probably had that conversation more than a few times. “Everybody wants to have an opinion on how you’re living your life, hunh?”
It was not only an old, tired truism, it was a line out of one of his favorite songs. But Damie looked at him as if he’d just said something really bright.
“That’s pretty much exactly it. I mean, they want to be running it without living it.”
“Directing from the back seat? Conducting from another state?”
“Yeah. That, exactly.” She kissed the side of his neck, both hands loosening their grip. Shang didn’t move, not yet, but he did relax a little bit. “Everyone thinks they know what I should be doing better than I do. Mom. Valentina. Luke. Sometimes even Gregori, but you know it’s different with him.”
“I can imagine?” He shrugged, and sat up, straddling her. He didn’t like thinking about Gregori, and he really didn’t like the way the guy looked at Damaris. “I mean, he thinks he owns you.”
“Still Owns me.” Her correction was a little tense. Shang winced. Sore subject, right. “Yeah. Hemlock tries to pull that shit with Agra, too.”
“They both have… people this year, this last year, don’t they? That’s got to get weird for everyone.” Shang shrugged. “I mean, ‘hey, I’m your sub now, why are you talking to your last sub?’ Not that it’s not weird enough that people only date for a year at a time in Addergoole.”
She peered at him; he sat back a little further, wondering what he’d said wrong. “What?”
“What did you say?”
What had he said? “I’m your sub now, why are you-”
“I didn’t know you knew that word.”
“Doesn’t everyone?” He gestured at the limited music he’d brought with him. “It’s in… hunh, no, I left that at school.”
“…What?” She was looking at him like he’d grown a second head. He patted his shoulder to be certain he hadn’t. Around here, you never could tell.
Well, you could, but with enough psychotropic drugs you wouldn’t be able to.
She’d asked him a question. “There’s a song. A band, really, that I like. They use the terms. Dom, sub, b&d, s&m. D/s. So I looked it all up, because it really bothers me when I can’t understand what a song means.”
“You looked up D/s. Because of a song?”
“Yeah…?” He scooted back and looked at her uncertainly. “I mean, I’m glad I did, because the whole Addergoole school thing is obviously a giant D/s game, and knowing the words helps with the concepts. But doesn’t everyone…”
“Everyone I know, Shang, thinks they’re a fairy alien, remember? Everyone but you.”
“Obviously that doesn’t preclude being into D/s. Or any of the other stuff, I mean, look at Speed.”
“I’d rather not. He’s cute, I suppose…”
Shang grimaced. “Is that the sort of guy you like?”
Where the hell had that come from?
“Him? No, sweetie, you’re the kind of guy I like.”
Shang was still trying to struggle with how good that made him feel when she followed up with a gut punch. “And now that I know you’re all educated about D/s stuff… maybe we can really play.”
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Quintus flopped down on their shared bed with a sigh, twisted, and peeked up at Zeke through his curls. His hair was getting untidy, but he refused to cut it.
“Am I crazy?”
Zeke tugged his former Kept into his lap so he could better cuddle him. “Because of Llew, you mean? No. Maybe a little bit masochistic, but you’re trying to be a good friend.”
“He’s determined to be miserable. And he keeps finding wiggle room in every order I give him about taking care of himself.” Quint wriggled into a sitting position, tucking his head under Zeke’s chin. “Seriously. ‘No alcohol.’ He bribes someone into Working him up some happy pills. ‘No punching the walls.’ I found him punching the floor.”
Zeke petted Quint’s shoulders. He’d never had a Kept like that, but he’d had a Keeper who had been more than a little broken. “Is he getting better, though?” Sometimes you had to look for the really small improvements.
“Welll, I mean, he’s eating. And he’s doing more reasonable exercise, so he’s losing that sick color around the gills. Not that he has gills.”
Zeke smirked. “Common expressions take on a whole new color when you’re dealing with fae, don’t they?”
“Just a bit.” That coaxed something like a smile out of Quint. “I really do want to help him, Zeke.”
“And I think you are, hon. Like you said, his color is getting better. And if you hadn’t forced a collar on him…”
“As much as I forced it.”
“As much as you forced it, yeah.” Zeke smirked. Quint hadn’t really given Llew a choice, but Llew hadn’t really been looking for a choice, either. “He forced it on you, too.”
“I suppose.” He ran a hand through his hair, and sighed. “Is it going to be like this every time I Keep?”
“Thinking of replacing me already?” Zeke kissed Quint’s forehead so he’d know it was a joke – well, mostly a joke. As much as he wanted to get out of Addergoole, he didn’t want to leave his pretty lover behind.
“Well, you’re going to head off to school, and there’s still Joff…”
“Always a bit. But it seems like the people who can Keep and not be assholes ought to try, you know?”
“I know.” He squeezed Quint close. That had been a large portion of why he’d collared Quint, after all. “And… no. It shouldn’t be like this every time. Llew is being difficult because he’s hurt, and he doesn’t know how to lash out productively, so he’s lashing out at himself.”
“He doesn’t want to hurt Heidi.” Quint sighed. “I can understand where he’s coming from.”
“I know, lover.” Zeke didn’t know, not really, how to deal with that one. Quint had fallen hard for him, harder than he’d meant. And it had been a good year, but he didn’t know if it would be a good forever. “You’ll be here three more years…”
“And you’ll be off at school. Write to me?”
“I’ll write. And I’ll visit, if you’ll have me.”
Quint didn’t answer. Zeke wondered if he was thinking the same thing Zeke was: If they visited, if they stayed close, would another Kept end up like Llew was now, in a year or two?
They could worry about that later. Right now, Zeke had Quint, and that was good.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?