September 25, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, August 30, 2004, Addergoole Entrance
“Mom, Dad, this is Porter. Porter, this is my… my foster-mother and foster-father. My parents.” Bel tried not to shift from foot to foot.
“This is the young man who’s responsible for the large bulge in my daughter’s waistband?” Bel’s foster-father had his Intimidating Father voice on, and was glaring over his glasses at Porter.
Bel’s beau, in turn, cleared his throat and offered a hand. “Yes, sir. That would be me, the proud papa nervously anticipating three-ay-em feedings and all the rest.”
Bel’s father guffawed. “Very good, very good.” He took Porter’s offered hand and pumped it. “Good man. And our Bel seems very happy with you. You treat her well, I’ve heard.”
“Yes, sir.” She could see Porter’s Adam’s apple move up and down as he tried to work out the mood change. “Yes, sir, I do my best.”
“And you put a collar on her last year?”
Bob. Bob-bob. There was a twist of his head that Bel thought probably went with a Masked ear-twitch “Yes, sir, I – that is, we -”
“Save it, son. Belfreja explained your motives and hers, and seems none the worse for the wear. As long as I know that you will treat our daughter and our grandchild well.”
Bob, eartwitch, bob-bob. Porter was an open book. That might actually doing him good with Bel’s folks. “I have every intention of treating them with the utmost respect, sir. Ma’am.”
“Good.” And while Bel’s foster-father could look intimidating, when Bel’s mother spoke, people quaked. She was not a large woman, just a very sharp one. “Very good. Understand, son, that if we hear any different, we’re going to come back and flay you alive.”
Gulp. “I understand, ma’am.”
“Good.” Bel’s foster-father stepped forward and clasped Porter’s shoulder. “I imagine our family dinners will be quite pleasant. Pleasure meeting you, son.”
Porter touched the older man’s shoulder gingerly. “Thank you, sir. Ma’am.”
“We’ll see you at Thanksgiving, then?” Belfreja’s mother smiled. It was an expression similar to the one a shark made, just as it was about to eat someone.
“Ah… well, I’ll have to call my parents and make sure they’re okay with it, but if not Thanksgiving, definitely just after Christmas, how’s that?” Porter recovered, offering the family a game smile. “Bel, can I carry anything, my cabbage?”
“Oh, it’s better than the last thing some boy called her, Vincent, I wouldn’t complain.”
“Here, Speedy.” Bel pushed her suitcase into his hands. “Put that in your room, if you would?”
He had such beautiful ears when he wasn’t trying to hide his mood. Right now, they were pointed at her in complete attention. “Into my… yes, ma’am. I bou… that can wait.”
She patted his hand again. “I’ll be there in a bit, love. I just need to see my folks off.”
Her father was smiling. She was never sure if that was a good sign or a bad sign. “So, where are we carrying this stuff, Bel, darling?”
“I’ve got it from here, dad…” Too late.
“Not at all, not at all. We can help young Porter, can’t we, Annie?”
“Of course we can. Don’t be silly, Belfreja. This way, then?”
Bel shrugged at Porter. Some things she just couldn’t work around.
“Bel! Bel, Porter, and this must be your parents, Bel, hi, Mr. and Mrs…. ah, Bel’s-parents.” Arundel barreled down the hallway, folding his wings up and Masking as he reached them.
“Ah, this must be Arundel.” Bel’s father offered a hand. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Great!” Arundel pumped the older man’s hand. “Good to meet you, sir, ma’am.” He bobbed something he probably meant to be a bow at Bel’s mother. “I’m Porter and Bel’s friend Arundel – you know that already – you look great, Bel. What can I carry?”
“Here.” Bel handed him the biggest box she had, the crib her parents had insisted on buying. It ought to slow him down at least a little. “There you go. Have fun.”
“Thanks. Come on, Porter.” He bobbed off down the hall, Porter following him with his own packages.
“He seems like a nice boy.” Bel’s mother shook her head. “Porter, that is. Arundel…”
“It wouldn’t be nice to say ‘flighty,’ would it?” Bel’s father grinned. “You have good friends, Bel. We’re proud of you.”
“And we’re sure you’ll be a good mother.” Her mother kissed both of Bel’s cheeks.
“I’v had good examples.” She angled herself sideways to hug her parents. “Thanks, guys.”
She knew it wouldn’t be easy. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome, not the least of which was currently kicking out a rhythm on her bladder. But the new year was looking up.
The last leg of the flight had been shared with Wylie, Akaterina, Adelheid, and Tigg, which was not the strangest combination of Addergoole students Kheper could think of, but only because he’d been Kept by Boom for a school year.
Kept by Boom. It sounded foreign in his ears, after a summer back home, being a normal kid, having a normal school year.
“Nessie’s gone, of course.” Tigg picked up his two small bags. He hadn’t mentioned his former Keeper at all on the flight; Kheper wasn’t sure why he was bringing her up now. “And she took Templeton, of course.”
“Temp – oh, is that your son?” Kheper hid an eyeroll with a heft-and-shoulder of his biggest suitcase. “What about you, Ka – Kay?”
“The twins are at the creche. I didn’t… I wanted a little time, I guess. They’re…”
Kheper took pity on her. “Last year wasn’t what any of us wanted, I think. Well, maybe Tigg.”
Tigg shrugged. “Parts of it were good.”
“I liked it.” Wylie was playing with something in his pocket. “Well, aside from, you know, the unicorns and the monsters and everything. Hey, you’re the only one that didn’t… that…” He frowned. Kheper could almost see the doggish ears canting. “You don’t have any kids, yet?”
“No.” It tasted sour in his mouth. “Cya had her second by Leo.”
“Oh, man, that’s got to sting.”
“Not at all.” He picked up his second bag. “I’ve got three years. And there will be plenty of girls in the sea.”
He was surprised to find Akaterina’s hand on his arm. “Something I’ve been thinking about. Don’t let it sour you; don’t let them have made you play the game on their terms.”
Kheper suddenly felt three inches tall. “I didn’t have it bad.” Not like she’d had.
“I’ve been thinking about that, too.” She sat down on one of the stupid molded-plastic seats, so Kheper sat down next to her. It put them at something closer to eye level. “Æowyn’s my friend. We talked about Fafnir. And maybe Cynara isn’t a bad sort, but that didn’t mean Fafnir didn’t take bad lessons out of it. Like the way Agra got after Hemlock.”
Her eyes were boring into him. Kheper found himself rolling his shoulders uncomfortably. “So, you’re saying…”
“I’m saying, maybe when I Keep someone – if I do – I’ll try to think about what Agra did as not an either-or sort of thing.”
Kheper frowned. “I’m not going to turn into some asshole, just because…” Just because he’d gotten Kept by a woman who loved her insane crew more than she cared about anything else in the world.
“I know. Just hold onto that, okay?” She wrinkled her nose at him, and suddenly looked bigger, stronger, and harder. “Because if I find out you’re dressing your new girl up like a doll or… anything else that you can do that’s horrible, I don’t need to list them, do I?… I’m going to make your life miserable until you stop.”
Kheper found a smile coming over him. “I hear you.” He offered her a hand. “Shake on it? I’ll stay good, or you’ll come after me.”
She shook his hand firmly. “You’ll stay good, or I’ll come after you. And I’ll stay good, too.”
“What about me?” Wylie flopped down on the other side of Akaterina. “Don’t I have to stay good too?”
“Oh, you had a cakewalk.” Tigg sat on top of his bags. “I mean, not that I didn’t.”
“You walked into the cake.” Adelheid finally deigned to join them. “I’m not sure that counts.”
“Really?” Akaterina turned to look at the hedgehog boy thoughtfully. “Really, you walked into it? On purpose?”
“Really and on purpose.” He shrugged. “Nessie had a good argument, and I never really minded the collar, or anything. Sharp Edges might let me stick around, but I dunno. I might go looking for another collar.”
“Really?” Kheper thought about that for a moment. He thought about Zita, who had lived almost all of her time at Addergoole in a collar. “Hunh. Well, to each their own. What about the rest of you?”
Wylie stretched. “I’ll hang out with the crew, I guess. Maybe see if I meet someone nice.”
“About the same.” Adelheid shrugged. “It’s my last year. I’ll make the best of it – before I make my escape.”
“Æo’s talking about forming a crew.” Akaterina shrugged. “Keep my head down, stay out of trouble. You, Kheper?”
Kheper thought about it for a bit. He had no legacy crew, and he hadn’t made many friends in the last year. “Maybe I will meet someone nice. Or nice enough.” He caught the petite girl’s eye. “And do our own thing, you know, her and me?”
He was rewarded with a tiny smile. “Sounds like a good start.”
“It’s your last year here.” Liliandra’s hand found Jeremiah’s as they walked down the hallway. “What are you going to do?”
“Do?” He looked down at his Kept. “What do you mean?”
“You’re an upperclassman now, top of the heap. There’s got to be some sort of accounting, doesn’t there?” She smiled wistfully. “I’d like an accounting.”
“Lolly, nobody ever really kicked us when we were down. Nobody gave us anything to demand an accounting against.” He shook his head. “I’ll get through this year, like I’ve gotten through the others.”
“Will you Keep someone?”
“I’m already Keeping someone, Lolly.” She was down a garden path in her mind again. He held her hand a little tighter and hoped there were no early first-year students in the halls.
“I mean someone real. Someone you can play with.” She tilted her head and blinked at him, and suddenly was the Liliandra he knew and loved. “Someone you can have a child with.”
“I don’t know if I can.” There was no point in lying to her, not unless he ordered her to be deaf, mute, and blind. “I don’t know if I can subject someone else to your moods, pretty rabbit.”
Unlike her half-sister, Lolly wasn’t actually a rabbit. She was fond of the nickname, however, and since she was fond of very little that wasn’t forbidden, Jeremiah didn’t mind giving her what he could.
It did little to mollify her this time. She frowned up at him, her eyes half-pinched shut. “You think I’d hurt what was yours?”
“I think, eventually, you hurt anything and everything that holds still for you to try, and many things that don’t hold still at all.”
He hadn’t meant to be that harsh. Then again, he hadn’t meant to still be Keeping her.
Her eyes shut all the way. “I like the way they bleed. I like to see what makes them tick. But I wouldn’t hurt what was yours.” She cracked one eye open to gauge his response. “I have orders, you know.”
“I know, Lolly. I also know how easily you get around orders, when you want to.”
“But not when it makes you angry.” She made a moue. Jeremiah sighed down at her.
“There’s no point in arguing with you. I’ll consider it.”
“And maybe a boy for me?”
“I don’t know why I’d inflict you on any other boy.”
“Because you can, and it will irritate the school.”
“The whole school?” He smiled down at her. Maybe he could derail her…
She stomped her foot soundlessly on the carpet. “You know that’s not what I meant. The Administration. The ones that made you Keep me. My mother and father.”
“You want me to upset your parents?” He touched her cheek, carefully. Lolly was known to bite when she was unhappy.
“They’ve upset you.” And now another look was on her face, one he rarely saw. It came with visions of an adult Liliandra, a sleek woman in a suit with no love for the world and no understanding of its denizens. “They’ve hurt you. They should be hurt in return. Take another Kept… Master.”
Jeremiah leaned down until his face was even with his Kept’s, and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. “As you wish, my beautiful rabbit.”
“I wish it so, Prophet.” She stepped back and smiled at him. “We can find you someone more to your tastes. Someone lovely, and compliant, and not at all deadly.”
“I have never said…”
“You haven’t needed to. I am what I am, of course.” She made a pretense of a smile. “And what I am is only what very stupid men dream of. You’ve been good to me, Jeremiah. Nobody made any requirement of that.”
“They demanded I treat you well.”
“That is different from being good to me, far different, and we both know it.” She shook her head. “I want to be good to you, this year.” She pursed her lips. “That is most likely the bond. It is not a feeling I feel, normally.”
“You sound like someone else, today.” She sounded like the woman in his visions.
“I sound like myself.” She patted down the ruffles and lace of her lolita dress. “Perhaps it’s time I started looking like her.”
“You’ll terrify people.”
Lolly smiled up at Jeremiah. He was reminded of what lay beneath her Mask. The carnivorous prey-beast; how much of that was her mother, how much her father, and how much the twist in her mind. “I’m hoping I will. I’ve never seen anyone scared to death.”
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