September 18, 2013 by Lyn
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
“‘Bye, Lemon. Hylakaros.” Speed slipped out of Strange Band’s suite door and tugged his shirt into place. This school had so many fun people. So very many fun people. And they wanted to play with him.
“Careful.” That rumbling voice… was not one that wanted to play with him. Speed stopped quickly, and shifted his posture, head down, shoulders rolled forward: See? I’m no threat to you at all. I’m just a little pet, see the collar?
It got a rumbling noise as a response, which wasn’t a very good option. He took a step backwards. Nobody really wanted to tangle with Gregori, did they? Everyone knew he was still Kept, right?
“Oh, stop it.” The deep rumble got even more dangerous-sounding. Speed stopped; he took orders well.
“Sir?” He risked a peek up; the tall, broad, terrifying man standing in front of him was glowering back down at him. He was also, a tiny part of his mind noted, very attractive. Blue-green eyes, deep brown skin. Thorburn, he thought that was his name. Gregori called him the Bear.
That explained the growling. Which was not getting better.
“I’m not a beast.”
You sound like one. “Sir?”
“I’m not going to attack you. I’m not going to beat you. I’m not going to hurt you, goddamn it.”
“I’m sorry?” He held very still. He was used to making people angry, but he was used to knowing why.
“You’re acting like I’m some sort of dangerous beast. Damnit, Gregori isn’t that bad a Keeper.”
“My Master isn’t a bad Keeper at all!” He stepped forward, glaring suddenly. He was tired of that. “Just because I like pain and like being topped doesn’t mean that he’s, I don’t know, tormenting me or locking me in closets or even in any way hurting me!”
“Woah.” The tall man took a step back. Slowly, a grin grew across his face.
“Right.” He nodded, still smiling. “So you’re not broken. So what’s with the bad-slave act?”
“Um? Oh, that.” Speed settled his weight on the balls of his feet and grinned. He’d made a giant bear guy step back. That was pretty cool. “That’s just how I act around big, tough, scary men.”
“Big, tough, scary…” Thorburn raised his eyebrows. “You were, what, afraid of me?”
“Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“You’re…” Speed gestured with both hands, indicating the breadth of the guy’s shoulders, and then again, indicating his height. “And, I’m mean, you’re a bear. I’m, well.” He shook his head, letting the floppy saluki ears flap back and forth.
“You’re a lot more dog than I am bear.” Thorburn shook his head. “I’m not scary.”
“This is Addergoole. Everyone – I mean, everyone but me – has the potential to be scary. Why did you get so pissed at me?” Speaking of being scary.
“Pissed.. oh.” The big guy shrugged. “I don’t like watching people kowtow.”
“Didn’t your Kept…”
“That was then, okay?”
Speed held up both hands. “Okay, okay. Sorry.” People could change, he supposed. “How is she?”
“Don’t know.” Even his shrug looked violent. “She went home for the summer.”
“You let her?”
“I released her.” He peered at Speed. “You’re still collared.”
“Yeah?” Both of his hands went up to the thick leather around his neck. “What of it?”
“You shouldn’t still be collared.”
“I don’t want him to let me go.” He took a step backwards. “I like being collared. I asked for the collar.”
“Still.” Thorburn shook his head. “It’s supposed to be for a year.”
“I’m here for four years. Gregori’s got another year.” He swallowed hard. “I like being collared.”
“I said that, when I was under the collar, too.”
“Well, why did your Keeper take the collar off, then? If you liked it?” Speed ran his fingers over his collar again. It felt warm, like a hug around his throat.
“What?” Thorburn frowned. “The year was over. And… you know what, never mind.”
“Okay?” Speed wasn’t sure what had just happened. “Okay.” He licked his lips. “I’ve got to get back to Gregori, anyway.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you do that.” Thorburn twitched as he walked away.
Whatever. Speed smoothed his shirt again. Did he still smell like Hylakaros? If he did, would his master mind?
If he minded, would he punish him?
That could be fun. Speed hurried down the hall to Sharp Edges’ suite, Thorburn’s strangeness forgotten.
“…acting like a twit. You got caught in a trap, fine. But it only lasted until the end of the school year.”
“It didn’t have to. Nobody would have faulted her if she Kept me until I graduated.”
“I would have.” Gregori was lounging in an armchair; Amadeus was pacing. A necklace was clenched in one of his hands, and a rose in the other.
“You didn’t give a shit when she Kept me in the first place.” ‘Deus’ pacing was turning into stomping.
“Of course I cared.”
“You didn’t do a damn thing to stop her.”
“She won the challenge fair and square. But if she’d left you in a collar past a year, I would have gotten involved. The crew would have gotten involved.”
Speed closed the door silently and sat down on the floor. Neither upperclassman paid him any heed.
“So the collar’s off. Why are you bitching now?”
“Because you lost your challenge and you did your time. Now it’s time to get your head back in the game, and the way you are acting, Amadeus, does not involve your brain.”
“Where do you get off?” The growling had gone from an undertone to coloring the words themselves. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“Your friend. Your fucking crew leader. I am the fucking Kracken, and you, wolf-boy, have forgotten yourself.” The room was getting darker. Speed found a wall and hugged up against it.
“I haven’t forgotten a damn thing. And who are you to say shit?” Amadeus’ eyes glowed red in the shadows. “You’ve spent the whole year playing with your boy-toy. As if the school didn’t stare at us enough.”
“The school was staring at you plenty.”
“They weren’t, actually. After they decided I wasn’t going to eat the girl, they ignored me like they ignore all the Kept of nice good students. You were the one bringing down attention. You and Hemlock.” His snarl had settled down into something like a bark of laughter. “Seriously, Gregori. What’s the fucking problem?”
“You want to go slinking back to her. That’s not what we do with…”
“She wasn’t my Kept!” And now he was roaring. “She was my fucking Keeper. And if you had a problem with it, any single Sharp Edge could have challenged her for me and won. And you didn’t.”
Why was Gregori so mad? Speed slid along the wall towards the kitchen. He could hide in there – or in Nessie’s former room – until his Keeper calmed down, or at least until Amadeus left, or went into his room.
“That was then. You did your time, and you’re done.”
For a moment, Amadeus said nothing coherent. He just growled, a long and angry snarl. “If you’d challenged for me, then you’d get to tell me what to do. You’re my friend. You said it.”
“Am I?” The room was entirely black and suddenly Speed knew why his Master was so upset.
And he knew what he had to do. He coughed uncomfortably. “Master?”
He flinched back and didn’t bother not to. “Sir. May I?”
“Be quick with it, Speed. Quick but comprehensible.”
“Sir.” He nodded and put his thoughts together speedily. “Sir, you’re angry at ‘Deus because Ciara isn’t crew. It was fine when it was his comeuppance for being stupid enough to take the challenge but now that she’s released him, you were expecting things to go back to the way they are. But they aren’t. Nessie’s gone, you have a Kept who enjoys your collar, and Hemlock has Xanthia. Amadeus isn’t the only one who’s changed, is he?” He took a breath. “Sir. Sorry.”
“What the…” Amadeus’ growl was enough to send Speed scrabbling back to the wall. “Gregori?”
Speed’s Master said nothing. Speed could hear his breathing, low and steady. Very steady. Measured.
“Say something, damn you! Is that what this is all about? I’ve changed?”
Speed found himself opening his mouth. “Well, you have. I mean. You looked at her as prey. You looked at everyone as prey.”
“You’re still prey.”
“Let the boy talk, ‘Deus.”
“I’m not prey. Because I Belong to your crew-mate, and he’s not going to let you hurt me.” Speed stood a little straighter. His Master didn’t think this was a bad idea. “People change. Even me. I’m not the same as I was a year ago, and I don’t mean the floppy ears.”
“You might not like it. It might not be what you wanted to be. But you’ve changed.” Speed took a gamble, betting on his ability to move faster than the wolf if he had to. “I bet she likes it.”
He was, indeed, faster than the wolf. He got out of the way of the dive before it even really happened. “Mas – Gregori’s different, too.” He shot it off breathlessly from behind the couch. “So’s Hemlock.”
“Get over here!”
“No, sir.” He slid behind the bookshelf.
“We’re Sharp Edges. That’s who we are. If we change, we dull.”
“That’s what I thought.” The Master’s voice was calm, but that didn’t really mean anything, with him. He was calm and cool even when he was furious. “That’s how I looked at it. You got dull on that girl, bouncing against her rock face… stop chasing the boy, ‘Deus, you’re only making yourself look foolish.”
“The little shit…” Now Speed was under the couch. That might have been poor planning.
“My little shit, thank you. Speed, come here.”
Speed slunk out from the couch and darted, still on all fours, to his Master’s hand. “You’re not angry with me, sir?”
Gregori’s hand on the back of his neck made everything feel steady again. “I’m angry. But I’m not mad at you. Do you think I’ve changed that much in the last year?”
“It’s easier for me to see with Hemlock, sir. And with Nessie. It was easier to watch them. The way Hemlock talks to Lemon, the way he talks to Xanthia. With them, sir.”
He squirmed. It made it sound… “I don’t mean that how it sounds.”
“I think you do, puppy.” The hand tightened reassuringly. “They are comfortable with their Kept, the way Hemlock never was with Agra, or I with Damaris.”
“I like being your sub, sir.”
“I know you do, little puppy. And I like having you. But you didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m sorry, Master.” He wanted to kowtow, but the hand wasn’t letting him move. “I meant to, but it’s just that it’s hard to see you. I wanted you, and I talked to you, and then I was yours and everything was right. But…” But there were bad times, sometimes. And then there were weird times. And now things were better.
“Has the way I’ve treated you been consistent?”
“What are you getting at, Gregori?” Amadeus had settled into a lurking position a few feet away from them.
“I think the boy is getting at something. Be patient. Continue, Speed.”
“Consistent?” He was going to have to say it. “No, sir. It’s gotten better.”
“Was it bad to start with? You walked into this collar willingly, remember.”
“I remember, sir. But sometimes, yes, it wasn’t fun, not even the way I like fun. Sometimes you were mean to be mean, and you didn’t really see me.” He swallowed. He wanted to grovel. He wanted to look at his Master’s face. He stayed where he was. “But now you’re not. Now you talk to me.”
“And you think I’m angry at Amadeus for changing over the last year?”
“I think so, sir. You keep saying things like gone soft. Or forgot himself. What if he didn’t, really?” He had to raise his voice a bit to speak over the rising growl. “What if he found something? What if all of you found something?”
“What sort of something would that be?” Amadeus moved closer, hands curled into claws. Speed didn’t move.
“Friendship outside of the crew. Friendship with someone who didn’t think like the crew, who wasn’t a Sharp Edge.” He tilted his head the bare fraction of an inch Gregori’s grip allowed. “You don’t hone swords on other swords, do you?”
His Master laughed, a deep guffaw that shook Speed bodily. “Well put, boy. Well put. Here.” He shifted his hand down from Speed’s neck to his waist and lifted Speed into a hug. “Good boy.”
“Thank you, sir.” His answer was muffled against Gregori’s chest but that was fine. When his Master released him, he settled into a sitting position on the floor, and listened.
“Okay, ‘Deus, the boy has a point.”
“That’s his…” ‘Deus cut himself off with a little growl. “Okay. So you’ve changed. Hemlock changed. I changed. Now what?”
“Well, do you still want to be part of Sharp Edges?”
“Yes! I helped make this crew!”
“And the crew helped make us. Do you still want to be part of it, if we’ve all changed?”
“Yes!” Amadeus sat down on the couch with a flop. “Damnit, yes. Change can be changed.”
“Do you want it to?” Speed ducked his head. “I mean, I’m sorry, Master…”
“It’s all right, puppy. This is a good time to talk, if you’re going to.”
Speed took a breath. “Okay. So, um, Amadeus, why’s it a bad thing that you changed?”
“I don’t want to be her dog!”
“Nothing wrong with being a dog.” He slunk a little closer to the wolf. “But why be her dog at all, if you don’t want to?”
“I come when she calls.”
“You were under her collar for half a year. Don’t you think maybe you’re still shaking habits?”
“What do you mean?” Amadeus pointed his chin at Speed and flared his nostrils. Well, better that than his teeth.
“Well, um.” He shifted into a tailor’s seat halfway between Gregori and Amadeus. “The bond pushes you into following orders, but if you don’t want to be pushed, you start to anticipate, and move before you have to. Yeah?”
“Yeah. Sometimes, yeah.”
“So your brain’s in the habit of doing what you’re told, and it doesn’t just work with your Keeper anymore. It’s like doing a really intense scene, right?”
“So, you are in the mindset, and you’re focused on doing right, and being good. And when you come out, part of your brain is still going ‘I have to be good. I have to do it right.’“
“Mmm.” Amadeus nodded.
Speed let out a breath. “So even when the collar comes off, you’ve still got the habits. And she’s still in the habit of telling you what to do, maybe?”
“She didn’t really give orders. Just wrote them down.”
“Well, that’s one less thing you’ll have to work around then.” How did you not give orders and just write them down? Speed would ask later, maybe.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you can be her… friend, if you don’t want to be her sub. You just have to negotiate it, like any scene.”
“Your boy has an interesting way of looking at the world, Gregori.”
“He does. But I think he has a point. You like this girl?”
Amadeus rubbed the back of his neck. “I think so.”
Speed smiled. He had a feeling neither Amadeus nor Gregori knew what liking someone without Keeping them or otherwise possessing them felt like. Or without being Kept by them.
“Hemlock likes his. Wants her to be part of the crew.”
Amadeus coughed. “You think Ciara…”
“It would piss Luke off. That might be fun.”
“She has a crew.”
“Mmm. She shares a suite with a couple. Are they a crew?”
Speed had said his part. He crawled back to Gregori’s feet and wrapped around them.
“Half an hour ago you were yelling at me for spending time with her. Now you want her to be crew?”
“Speed had some very good points, what can I say.”
Amadeus barked a laugh out. “You have changed too.”
“He’s a good Kept.”
Speed wriggled against Gregori in pleasure at the praise. His Master’s hand settled in his hair again.
“He’s a good Kept,” he repeated, “and he’s a good kid.”
Amadeus rolled his head and scrunched his shoulders back. “Not ‘kid,’ okay, Gregori? Not with him wrapped around your legs. He’s old enough to be in your bed.”
“We’re all kids, by some standards, ‘Deus.”
“Yeah, but not by that standard. Come on.”
Gregori chuckled. “Okay. So, what are you going to do about your girl?”
“She’s not my girl.”
“And you’re not her boy. Whatever.” Gregori waved a hand. “What are you going to do about Ciara?”
“Ask her what she wants to do?” Amadeus smirked. “I like the idea of having her be crew.”
He would. Crew were equals, even if sometimes there was a first among equals. Like that line in Animal Farm, the sign the pigs had made: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL. BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS. Ha. Speed hid a smirk against his Master’s leg. Some animals weren’t equal at all, and that was fine. “Woof.”
“Puppy.” It was almost an admonishment, but the hand scritching behind his ears was almost praise. Speed took it as a suggestion rather than an order and silenced himself at all.
“So you want her to be a Sharp Edge?” Gregori’s question had edges of its own.
“She’s already all sharp edges. But if she was one of us…”
“Yeah. I don’t mind. I’ll mention it to Hemlock and his girl.”
“Well, if we’re asking his girl, what does your boy think?”
“I don’t need a vote.” Speed muffled his answer against Gregori’s leg.
“Vote anyway.” The Master sounded amused, but it was sometimes hard to tell.
“I don’t know Ciara all that much. I think we’re a little bit dark for her though. I don’t think she… hrrm.” Speed found himself smiling. “Might be educational for her. Can I give her lists?”
“Already down, sir.”
Amadeus chuckled. “Educational. Ha.” He rolled his shoulders backwards. “Welp. Guess I’ll go talk to her.”
“Good luck.” Gregori’s hand had found itself in Speed’s hair again, and he petted him idly.
“Thanks.” Amadeus took his leave, leaving Speed and Gregori alone in the living room.
“You did very well, puppy.”
“I did?” Speed craned to look up at his Master. “You’re not angry?”
“No, I’m not.” His hands settled on Speed’s shoulders, and he turned Speed to face him. “You had a number of good points there, and you put them forward very well.” One corner of his mouth twisted upwards. “Much like when you decided you were going to be mine.”
“You wanted me too, master.”
“Once you made sure I knew that I should, yes.”
“I just had escaped your notice up until then.” Something was wrong. Speed dropped his head and pulled his shoulders forward. “You would have noticed me on your own eventually. But this way, you can tell people I walked into the collar knowingly.”
“But it’s not entirely the truth, is it, puppy?”
“You knew you wanted to be my sub. But you didn’t know about or anticipate the bond, the forced obedience, everything that comes with being Kept. You expected the habits, I think, but I don’t think you expected the rest of it.”
Speed shrugged a little bit, just enough movement to show that he’d done something. “It doesn’t feel that different from being very deep into subspace, sir. It feels like being Owned.”
“And when I’m angry with you?”
“You’re not mad at me very often, sir. I’m a good puppy.”
“You’re the best puppy.” Gregori bent down and kissed the top of Speed’s head. “You’re the best Kept I could hope for and the best sub anyone could want.”
Speed’s tail wagged of its own volition and he peered up at his Master, smiling. “You like me.”
“I like you a lot, puppy.”
“Then why are you frowning?” Why was he using the serious voice? The no-playing-now-really-put-on-your-public-face voice?
“Because you’re growing up.”
“People change… that’s okay, isn’t it? I could stop growing up, if you wanted, sir. I can be a puppy for you. I’m good at being a puppy.” He nuzzled against his Master’s hip. “I can be good. I’m good for you, aren’t I?”
“You’re the best, Speed. You know you are.” Gregori’s hands were at the back of his neck. Speed was gulping air. The words were good, but something about the tone.
“What did I do wrong? I’ll make it good. Punish me, please, just tell me what I did wrong, Master. What did I do? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Speed. Relax, puppy. Breathe. Just breathe for a moment.” And now Gregori’s hands were on Speed’s shoulders, not on his neck. “Here. In, out. In, out. Breathe.”
Breathing. He could do that. He closed his eyes and listened to his Master’s voice. In, out. In, out. His heartbeat calmed, his hands uncurled on his lap.
“That’s my puppy. Always my beautiful Speed. Focus on my voice now. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, sir.” It was as if he was in a dream. Nothing existed but Gregori’s voice.
“Speed, I release you. You are no longer Mine.”
“What… what?” He gulped air. The dream crashed away. “What, no, no, sir, noo.” He let the words go away into a long baying miserable sob. “Sir…”
“Speed. Breathe. In, out. In, out.” Gregori’s hands gripped his shoulders. “Breathe, and listen to me.”
The habit of obedience got him breathing. The need for something to hold on to got him listening. In, out. In, out. “Sir?”
“I’m not kicking you out, pretty puppy. I’m not sending you away. I will still be your dom. I’ll still be your master, and you can still wear my collar.”
“Then… then…” He grabbed onto that like a life raft. “Then why…?”
His master’s lips twisted in a grimace. “Let’s just say that you’re not the only one who grew up a little bit. And I had a conversation with another career pet.”
“Another career pet?” Speed tilted his head. “Is that what I am?”
“It’s what you were shaping up to be, puppy. So you get to – have to – decide if that’s what you want, before I’ll let you go under a Keeping again.”
“I came to you willingly!”
“And you’re still welcome to come for me, pretty boy.” Gregori’s hand closed around the back of Speed’s neck. “But you’re going to have to learn about being an adult, too. And you’re going to have to finish growing up before you’re collared again.”
Speed gulped. He was crying, but that didn’t matter. The horrid sense of loss was filling up his chest until he felt as if he couldn’t breathe, but that didn’t matter. His Master’s hand was on the back of his neck and his Master didn’t like what Speed had done. “Yes, sir.” He risked a peek up at Gregori. “Tell me what to do, please.”
Gregori chuckled. “For a few minutes, puppy, here and there.” He caressed the collar and Speed’s neck and throat. “But if you’d like, I can top you now. You seem like you could use a bit of rough handling.”
He huffed out a relieved sigh. “Yes, please, sir. Please, do what you will to me. I’m…” He swallowed. “I’m in your hands.”
Gregori tugged on the collar. “Good boy. Come.”
Friday, August 27, 2004
“You’re sure you have everything?”
Noam had come home for the summer to find he had a stepfather, which wasn’t the strangest part. He’d come home to find his mother happy, the guy she was married to pretty cool, and nothing else feeling or looking in any way the same, and even that wasn’t the strangest part.
He’d found out his new stepfather was fae, and spent half the summer talking in circles about fae stuff to a guy he barely knew who wanted Noam to tall him dad, and even that wasn’t the strangest part.
The weirdest part was that he was looking forward to going back to school.
“I’ve got everything, Mom. And the Store really does stock kitchen sinks, so if I’m missing something, I can probably pick it up there…. oh, yeah.” He grabbed a jewelry box off of his dresser.
“See? I knew you’d forgotten something. Is that the piece you picked up at the Faire?”
“Yeah.” He tucked it into his carry-on. “I hope she likes it.”
“This girl has got to be something else. You’ve barely said a word about her all summer, but you get this far-away look when you’re thinking about her.” His mother patted his head. “Do well by her, all right, angel?”
“Ill try my best, Mom.” He ran a thumb over the jewelry box. “I don’t know if she’ll even talk to me now. Things changed, and she doesn’t do well with change.”
“Why… oh. This has something to do with that collar in your luggage, doesn’t it?”
“How… laundry. Yeah, Mom.” He thought about the geasa he’d submitted to. There wasn’t much he could say to her, but his mom had always been pretty smart.
“And what you’ve been talking to Darin about all summer?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that, too.”
“The collar doesn’t look very feminine.” His mother was fishing. It was kind of strange. For the first time, Noam wondered what sort of geasa she was under.
“No. It wouldn’t fit her very well.”
“Aah.” She patted his shoulder again. “And you think that, now that you’re not wearing it either…”
“Yeah. Maybe.” He shrugged. “It’s hard to tell, but she’s a bit skittish, and I was safe, before.”
“You’re safe now, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but does she know that?”
His mother looked him in the eye, her expression considerably firmer than he’d seen it in years. And, he noted, her eyes shimmering iridescently. “Then it’s up to you, Noam James sh’Pam, Noam cy’Pelletier, to make sure she does.”
Noam gulped. “Yes, ma’am.”
The expression – and the dragonfly-like-eyes – were gone, and his mother was his mother again. “That’s a good boy. Now, do you have extra underwear?”
“I didn’t think so. Here, I bought you some more, and some plain t-shirts and some of those nerdy t-shirts you like so much, yes, I do know how to read a wish list. And, by the by, is this young lady you won’t speak about pregnant?”
“What?” He’d gotten stuck looking at a clever D&D-referencing T-shirt. “Mom, what?”
“Is she pregnant? Your young lady or, rather, the young lady of whose your were? That’s horrible grammar, isn’t it?”
“Mooom.” He was blushing, he knew it. “Why would you ask that… oh. Damn.” He swallowed. “Yes. Yeah, there’ll be a little guppy in late November, probably.” He held up both hands. “I’ll send pictures. Lots of pictures. All the pictures.”
“Is this fish going to be a boy or a girl?”
“We don’t know yet? Bren didn’t want to know… I’m gonna miss my flight, Mom.”
“Your word that you’ll send me at least one hundred photos, and then you can go back to school.”
Noam sighed. “My word, mom. I promise I’ll send you at least 100 photographs of my child by Brenna.”
“Good. Come on, you’re going to be late.”
And it still wasn’t the weirdest part of the whole thing.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?