Saturday, May 12, 2001
Arnbjörg curled up against Jaya on the couch, her girlfriend-and-Keeper’s head on her shoulder. They were watching a movie – Dangerous Beauty – something about a high-class prostitute in Venice. The rest of the crew was with them, paying varying degrees of attention to the movie.
“Ever think about that as a living?” Sheba mused quietly. “I mean, the right Words and the right skills and you wouldn’t really have to work hard. Some healing Words and it wouldn’t be so dangerous. What? Ivette talks about it sometimes. Lady Mau did it. We’re fae, different morals apply.”
“We’re fae, but we can still be, I don’t know, reasonable human beings,” Jaya countered. Arnbjörg could see that Howard was getting up a head of steam – but the room was smelling a bit floral, too, and Magnolia pulled him in for a kiss. “I wouldn’t be a courtesan if I wanted to have a relationship with someone, you know? Well. With something that would be bothered by it.”
“Yeah,” Sheba agreed slowly. “I don’t think Ivette is relationship material for anyone, and I don’t know about Lady Mau. Never seen her with anyone. So.” Her ears twitched and she took a moment to snuggle with Zita. It looked to Arnbjörg surprisingly like the cat-girl was steadying and reassuring herself. “So, um. What DO you want to do, after Addergoole?”
“Never go underground again,” Arnbjörg answered with some heat.
Jaya chuckled. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty high up on my list, too. Along with ‘get someone to Work me so I never say the words ‘I promise’ or those other ones, you know.”
Arnbjörg twisted to look at her girlfriend – her Keeper – upside down. “’I’m yours?’ Those words?”
Jaya flushed deeply. “Yeah. Uh. Or the other half, ‘You Belong to Me.’ Because I don’t – well, I mean, I didn’t mean to say-”
Arnbjörg cut her off with a long kiss. “If I was going to be anyone’s, I’m glad I’m yours. I’m really glad I’m yours instead of, say, Rand’s. Or…” She trailed off, wrinkling her nose.
Magnolia chuckled. “Dysmas,” she drawled. “Ofir. At least Xaviera’s got that twit under a collar this year. And at least you don’t have to deal with Ardell and Delaney or that mess.”
“I hear Shadrach wasn’t peachy-keen, either,” Zita offered, her face suggesting something much darker than wasn’t peachy-keen. The silence that hung in the room for a moment was palpable and uncomfortable, and it made Arnbjörg want to ask questions, questions like how bad can it get, anyway?
Then Sheba giggled. “Ty.” She snorted out another chuckle and Niki and Jaya followed suit. “Ty wasn’t bad, not the way bad Keepers are bad. But Ty was -”
“Self-centered,” Jaya offered.
“Self-absorbed,” put in Niki, which, considering Nikita was the most self-absorbed person Arnbjörg knew, was kind of funny.
“Self-important,” Sheba added. “Which is not surprising, considering everyone treated Ty like all that and a jar of pickles. Oooh spooky power that nobody talked about, VanderLinden’s child, not that anyone talked about that, Kept every single year…”
“That still sounds good,” Phelen commented.
“Of course it sounds good to you. But on the other hand, that means you have to pay a lot of attention to someone or have a lot of neglected Kept.”
“Is that how that’s supposed to work?” Phelen looked amused. “I thought they were supposed to pay attention to me.”
The thing was, Arnbjörg was pretty sure he was joking. On the other hand, everyone else looked really tense for a moment.
Then Magnolia chuckled. “Oh, darlin, if you do it right, paying attention to them means that they pay lots and lots of attention to you.”
Which made people giggle for a moment, until they saw the glower that passed over Howard’s features and the way he leaned in to whisper something to Magnolia. The room took on the distinct smell of flowers in spring.
Arnbjörg felt a little tension leave her shoulders. As far as powers went, she supposed soothing potpourri was not a bad one. And it really did suit her name.
Which led to a whole bunch of questions. “What does your name mean?” she asked… kind of the room in general, feeling lazy about it. “How does Magnolia’s name match her power?”
“Secret dad powers,” Sheba joked.
“Why dads?” Arnbjörg couldn’t quite work up the energy to bristle, not when the room still smelled so much of flowers. “Why not moms?”
“Relax, Amazon Barbie.” Phelen flapped a lazy hand at her. “Moms get all the rights but that one. The father names the babies. And it helps to, you know, work things out with the dad, or you end up with, you know…”
“Some interesting names,” Magnolia interjected firmly “Now, our father, Sheba’s and mind, well, our older brother Richard – he’s graduated – he’s got a lion Change. To be honest, we think he named this one here,” she gestured lazily at Sheba, “after the cat food. And me, well, you can guess me. He’s not the most creative father.”
“Mine named me ‘wolf,” Phelen chuckled.
“Guess that was better than ‘shadowy dude’,” Sheba teased. “What about you guys? Have you looked yours up yet?”
“Wait.” Arnbjörg looked around. “Everyone’s name means something about them?”
“Well, everyone whose father took any effort at all in the naming ritual,” Sheba clarified. “I mean, Shadrach, he named his kids things like ‘Chandra, ‘cause it sounds like Shadrach.’ He’s not really good at that whole thing. But uh, you’re one of the Aelfgar kids, right?”
“Got it.” Jaya reached behind her to a stack of books piled on an end table. “Here’s the Norse Baby Names book… if you’re okay with it, Arna?”
“Sure. I mean, it’s not…” She looked over at the flower-smelling girl, the cat girl, and the man who hit on everyone. “…Okay. Sure.”
“Let’s see. From Arn, meaning eagle, and björg meaning ‘help, save, rescue’.” Jaya grinned. “Yeah, that sounds like you, swooping down to rescue people.”
“I mostly just like hitting people,” she muttered, feeling strange. Rescue. Eagle. “But if I get to hit people AND rescue people, I’ll take it.”
“I suppose this crew couldn’t be the party crew forever.” Phelen stretched, shadows wiggling from his fingers. “You know. There’s something to be said for really annoying people, and the people whose Kept need rescuing most are generally really annoying people….”
“Rand.” Arnbjörg didn’t even have to think about that one. “Rand is definitely obnoxious. I could stand to punch him in the face a few times.”
“I’m not all that sure about the Ofir and Xaviera situation.” Phelen looked as if the idea bored him. Arnborg wondered what he really felt.
“Those two? They deserve each other. What about Callista?” Sheba mused. “I know she had it pretty bad her first couple years but-”
“Ragnvaldr is happy, though.” Arnbjörg felt a little embarrassed. “Leo and I kinda got in a fight the other day, standing up for his right to be Kept to help her, if he wants.”
“You got in another fight with Leo?” Sheba clucked in disappointment.
“No, uh. Leo and I got in a fight at, uh, Nikolai? Maybe. Some big upperclassman who isn’t our brother. We won, of course.”
“Of course,” Sheba snorted. “So not Callista.”
“There’s Dysmas,” Zita mentioned quietly. “He counts.”
Phelen shifted uncomfortably. “He counts,” he agreed slowly, “but not like Ardell or Aggie or Shad.”
Arnbjörg wondered what made the different levels of counting.
“Well, there’s Abednego. Rafe,” Zita put in. “I’m pretty sure he counts.”
“Oh, Shadrach’s brother?” Sheba frowned. “That’s got to be—”
“Awkward, being Kept by Shadrach and Meshach’s former Kept? Yeah. It looked pretty awkward.”
Arnbjörg had a feeling she had to grab onto something or they’d be debating until the end of the year. “Abednego first,” she declared. “Then Rand. And then we can worry about Dysmas.”