Monday, February 5, 2001
Abednego woke from a nightmare to find himself awash the the particular sick feeling of bond-guilt. How the hell had he managed to do something wrong while he was sleeping?
Oh. Rafe’s hand was on his shoulder and his face was… unpleasant. “You were making noise in your sleep.”
It had to have been pretty bad to wake Rafe up from across the room. “I-” The words didn’t come out.
“You were talking about Meshach.” Rafe’s voice was quiet. It wasn’t a good sound It felt dangerous. Abednego moved back, but Rafe’s hand on his shoulder was holding him more firmly than he thought. “You were talking about being sorry. What were you sorry for?”
Abednego opened his mouth. Nothing came out. What – He swallowed and tried not to freak out. He couldn’t talk. He could barely move. He was dying oh, god this was how he was going to-
Abednego squeaked, and even that made no noise. He bowed down in front of Rafe, prostrated himself and whimpered without sound. He didn’t know how to answer without words. He didn’t know even what he was supposed to answer.
Sorry. What had he been sorry for?
“What are you? No. Get off. I’m not – fuck. Fuck, do you know how much time I spent in that position?”
He didn’t, but he had an idea. He didn’t move. He keened soundlessly. The feeling of failed orders was getting to be familiar, like the pain the time he’d broken his leg, running from his brothers up in the hills near their house. It had hurt him until Dr. Caitrin had run her hand over it, murmuring soft words to herself.
He’d take the leg pain back, even the broken leg back. At least Meshach and Shadrach had never stabbed right into his brain.
Get off wasn’t even’ something he could obey; he wasn’t on anything. He scooted back a couple inches and stayed in that position, forehead on the carpet. At least when he was like that, Rafe didn’t tend to ignore him.
There was a hand on his collar. He could handle that. He could — the hand was pulling backwards, that wasn’t as good. He moved with the pull, not letting himself quite get choked on the metal against his throat.
“You don’t get to remind me of him. That’s not the point. You don’t get to tell me how I’m supposed to be, that I’m a bad Kept. I know that, all right? I was a bad Kept. I was a bad friend. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why—”
The voice came out of nowhere. It was a female voice, not one Abednego recognized. The demon again?
Then he wasn’t paying attention to anything else, because Rafe was kneeling. His boss was trembling and kneeling, forehead to the ground.
Abednego looked at Rafe and then tried to look anywhere else. He couldn’t be seeing this. He still couldn’t tell Rafe what he was sorry for; couldn’t tell Rafe anything.
“You’re not supposed to talk back to me. You know better. You know you’re not supposed to growl, little puppy. You’re not supposed to snarl at me. You’re not supposed to talk about other people’s Kept unless I ask you a question. Remember?”
Rafe whined. “She was in pain! I saw her bleeding!”
“She can take it, can’t she? She can take all of it. And you—”
Another voice. This was Rafe, but not the Rafe in front of him.
“Please, mistress, I think he’s really hurting her. I think he made me really hurt her, and —”
Rafe-on-the-floor whined. The sound of a slap reverberated across the room.
Stop it! Abednego tried to shout, but nothing came out. Leave him alone!
“Help me?” Rafe whimpered. The real one. The one in the air, the invisible one, just said “I’m sorry, mistress, I’m sorry, but she-”
“She is not your concern. And I will punish you if you forget that again. Do you understand?”
Cautiously, not sure if it was a good idea or a bad idea, Abednego reached out and stroked Rafe’s hair.
“You should know by now, if Meshach tells you do do something, you do it without question and without complaint. If he told you to kill her, I’d expect you to wash the blood off your hands and come kneel before me, ready to serve me, do you understand? You do what he tells you. What both of them tell you to do.”
“Yes, mistress, but… It’s just…”
The voice in the air was still fighting. Abednego wondered if Rafe had been that new, that fresh, or if he had been pushing that hard against the orders because he cared about something. He winced anyway, worried about what was coming.
There was no slap this time. The voice was very quiet and very dangerous. “Go get the blade.”
“Enough!” Abednego didn’t know how he’d spoken. He pushed his forehead down on the ground the minute he’d spoken.
“There has to be a limit,” said another voice. Eris? It sounded something like Eris, but choked. “Seriously, at some point you have to pull yourself out of it and say ‘no, really, what am I doing?”
Abednego struggled again against the silence pushing down on him. “He’s not,” he didn’t say, but mouthed. “He’s…” It was too much. Sobs raked his body.
“You know,” Eris’ voice continued, in a conversational tone, “at some point I wondered how much a body could take. Conflicting orders, impossible orders, praise and punishment and everything. I suppose I learned. I suppose you learned, too.”
“I didn’t do it!” Both Rafes spoke at once. “I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t want to. I tried not to, I tried to – oh, fuck, Eris, I’m sorry. Meshach, Shadrach, stop, stop!”
He was shouting. Abednego couldn’t make himself any smaller, not without Workings, but he tried. Tlacatl, body, was one of his best Words, maybe if he thought hard enough – he couldn’t do the shape word at all by maybe, urm, Transmute? Control? Maybe he could turn himself invisible or just tiny. Tlacatl, Tlacatl, he thought, but he didn’t even know what verb he could try.
“I would be quiet if I could, you know.” This voice was male. Begging. Not a voice Abednego recognized. “Silent. Invisible.”
Was the thing reading his mind?
What was the thing trying to do?
“You’re never going to be quiet enough unless you stop existing. You know that, don’t you? You’re obnoxious, you’re irritating, and you smell funny.”
Rafe twitched and shuddered. Stop it! Abednego tried, but he couldn’t make himself talk again.
“Stop it!” Rafe shouted. “It’s not like I don’t remember. It’s not like I don’t know what they were like!”
The voice was suddenly quiet, female, and strange. “Who’s talking about them?”
The air pressure changed, as if a storm had just rolled in. Abednego found himself being held by Rafe, hands petting his hair. “It’s over,” Rafe kept repeating. “It’s over.”