Wednesday, October 11, 2000
Eriko was busy doing her homework. For anything else, it would’ve been a bad time — it was a bad time, if he was being honest, but it was almost impossible to find a good time when it was just the two of them. And Leofric really wanted this to be a private conversation.
Leofric had chosen a spot on the floor that was clearly visible from her desk (but not in the way; he didn’t want to be in the way, she didn’t like that) and knelt there. He didn’t want to interrupt her; he couldn’t interrupt her, even if he wanted to, not since that one time he had and she’d ordered him not to. So instead, he settled into his spot and waited.
Waiting, he could do. He might be screwing up at everything else with this… whatever it was, this Keeping, but waiting for it to be convenient to be noticed was practically second—nature. If things were different, he wouldn’t have any problem finding time around her schedule and not inconveniencing her or staying out of her way until she felt like paying attention to him. That was just normal, like back home.
That had been just normal, before Leofric had come to Addergoole. Before he’d met Zita, and Howard, and started realizing how friendship was supposed to work.
Which brought him to here. Zita, his friend — his first friend — was in trouble, he was sure of it. The conversation with his Mentor drifted into his mind, the word torture lingering. She was in trouble, maybe being tortured. And he couldn’t do anything to help her.
At least not without Eriko’s permission. He’d been trying; the first time he brought it up, she told him not to interfere with other people’s business. The second time — after talking to Luke — she’d let him get through the first sentence before telling him to shut up and go to her room.
This time, he was hoping that not having other people around would make her more inclined to listen. He’d noticed she seemed… maybe nicer wasn’t the right word, but different, when they were alone. If he was lucky, it was the right kind of different to listen.
Third time’s the charm, right?
Eriko looked up, finally noticing him waiting, and frowned. “What is it, Leofric?”
Leofric dug his fingers into his knees, almost unconsciously, as he squashed the surge of unease/nausea that always seemed to come up when he spoke to her recently.
“Mistress, I…” He looked down and swallowed, forcing himself to continue. “I know you didn’t want to discuss this, but—”
“Again?” Eriko slammed her pencil down in exasperation, making Leofric flinch. “I already told you, it’s none of my business what other people do with their Kept.”
Leofric cringed inwardly — doing his best to keep it from showing, she didn’t like it when he cringed. He shouldn’t have said anything; he should’ve known better, and now she was going to be upset with him again and he did know better. But Zita. Zita needed his help.
“I know, but—”
“I’m starting to think you like this friend of yours more than me.” Eriko pouted unhappily at him. “You don’t like me anymore.”
“No! No.” Leofric dug his fingers into his knees harder, holding back the urge to leap forward; she didn’t like it when he got “over-excited”. “No of course I like you, Mistress. You know I do.”
“Then stop talking about your other friends.” She leaned towards him, still frowning. “They aren’t more important than me, are they?”
Leofric tried to answer — of course they weren’t more important — but found the words stuck in his throat, blocked by the order she just gave. He shook his head instead, looking down at the floor and trying not to feel miserable and frustrated. “I Belong to you, mistress.”
“Yes, you do.” She smiled at him; he found himself smiling hesitantly back. “Come here. You like being mine, don’t you?”
He scooted across the floor to kneel next to her chair — she liked it when he was kneeling — and nodded. “Of course I do, mistress.”
It was even true. He just didn’t understand why wanting to help his friends would mean he didn’t. He wasn’t trying to cause problems, he was trying to fix them. If his friends were okay, he’d be able to focus more on his mistress. If she would just let him explain… He looked up at her — she was still smiling, and his own expression relaxed into a real smile of his own. If he could figure this out and be a better Kept, maybe she would be nicer like this more often.
“Then I’m the only one you need to worry about.” Eriko gently place a hand against his cheek. “Don’t worry about anyone else.”
Sheer stubborn will was the only thing that kept Leofric from doubling over in pain. A faint whine escaped through his teeth before he could catch it, clamp down on it, try to think about nothing, anything, anything but the constant worrying he’d been doing for days. Don’t worry, she’d said, but he was worried and the guilt and pain was overwhelming, how could he not worry—
Don’t worry about anyone else. Eriko. He could worry about Eriko. Desperately, he focused on her, what she did, what she was doing— shit, she was talking and he hadn’t been listening. He was supposed to pay attention when she was talking to him.
“… into trouble. I could get hurt, or worse. You don’t want that, do you?”
“Of course not, mistress.” His voice sounded strangely distant, past the stabbing headache and still-overwhelming guilt. “I would never do anything to hurt you.”
“Good boy.” She smiled again and leaned forward to give him a brief kiss, the warm flush of the praise and contact mixing unpleasantly with the pain and guilt. “Now go do your homework and let me do mine.”
“Yes, mistress.” Leofric stood, the order pulling him to his feet, over to his books, through the motions of picking them up.
He couldn’t just stop worrying, so his thoughts circled around Eriko, pulled back every time they tried to wander back to Zita. Like a moth around a candle. But the moth— no, he couldn’t even worry about himself. Eriko. Worry about Eriko. She’d been Kept before, didn’t she know what an order like that could do? Had he forced her to, somehow? …had someone done it to her? Luke said students had been tortured and abused. He should ask… yeah. He could ask Luke what had happened to Eriko.
The last order pushed him out into the corner of the suite’s living room — out of the way, where he usually did his homework when he wasn’t being punished — and he took out his history notes, laying him out on his lap. As he stared down and tried to read, he realized the stabbing headache hadn’t gone away, like it usually did when he did was he was supposed to. It was actually getting worse.
But he had to do his homework. Leofric rubbed at his temples, trying desperately to ignore the headache and the guilt and the worrying, when a blinding jolt of pain seared through his skull and down his spine.
He doubled over with a strangled gasp, barely even noticing the sudden blue-violet arcs of electricity leaping out from every surface — and everything went black.
“What the fuck!” Dysmas’ voice yelled in startled outrage.
It was the last thing Leofric heard before consciousness slipped away.