Chapter 25: Leofric

Monday, November 20, 2000

Leofric sat off to the side, paying just enough attention to know if Eriko was saying something to him and otherwise ignoring the three upperclassmen. He’d finished all of his homework for the night but he kept his notebook open anyway; if he looked like he was busy with school stuff, Eriko was less likely to give him something to do – something he would, inevitably, screw up.

Cynara was cleaning up after dinner, as she usually did, and Dysmas was mostly ignoring her, as he usually did. Sometimes Leo wondered why Dysmas was even Keeping her in the first place; he certainly didn’t have any problem bringing home other girls. And that was something Leo didn’t have any orders against being annoyed about – especially since the last time that’d happened, Cynara had spent the whole time sitting out in the suite, trying not to look sad.  Not even collapsing in the halls had been enough to make Dysmas to care about her.

He was annoyed at Dysmas, he decided, because Dysmas was an asshole who–

“Leofric! Stop it!”

Leofric jumped, trying not to look distressed as the order started pressing down on him. He was just sitting there, thinking. She couldn’t mean he was supposed to stop thinking.

“Stop what, mistress?”

“You know what.” Eriko sounded exasperated and pointed at the television; it was showing nothing but static. “Stop messing with the electronics.”

He stared at the television, his mind racing as he tried to figure this one out – because he wasn’t messing with anything. Judging by the last time he wasn’t doing anything, though, she wasn’t going to believe it. “I’ll do my best to fix it, mistress…?”

She sighed. “You wouldn’t need to fix things if you didn’t break them in the first place, you know.”

“No, mistress.” Leofric looked at the television again. “Idu Hiko beta τηλεόραση δυσλειτουργία,” he said quietly, trying to be unobtrusive about not already knowing what the problem was. He was the one who had the electrical power, after all; he should be able to fix things like a television set. That’s what Eriko said, at least.

As the Working settled into his head, he frowned at the television, even more confused. There was nothing wrong with the television at all.

“Can’t you make your Kept work faster?” Dysmas sounded bored.

“I try,” Eriko complained, “but he’s completely useless for anything but looking pretty.”

Leofric focused on how to fix a television that wasn’t broken, hoping vainly that if he didn’t pay attention to what they were saying, he wouldn’t get that awful feeling that happened whenever she said anything nice about him, like cuddling a warm fluffy kitten while being sucker punched in the gut.

So far, trying not to pay attention had a success rate of zero.

“What are you doing, Leofric?” Eriko’s frown deepened as the hiss of static started changing, sounding almost like a distorted voice. “Now it’s broken and making strange sounds.”

“Trying to fix the television, mistress.” It wasn’t a lie – he wasn’t allowed to lie – but it was bending the truth of trying to find a problem to fix enough to make him feel even worse.

“Well stop trying and just fix it.”

Leofric didn’t manage not to cringe, that time. It felt like being stuck in the middle of an awful game of tug-o-war; he couldn’t fix it, and now he couldn’t try to fix it, either. “It isn’t broken, mis–”

“Ugh! You really are worthless. I ask you to do one small thing for me and all you do is complain.”

“Maybe you should find a better Kept, mistress.” The words slipped out before he realized it – it wasn’t the first time he’d had the thought, not by a long shot, but he’d always known better than to say it aloud.

The look of shock on her face stabbed through the feelings of guilt and worthlessness like a knife. “…excuse me?”

“I keep making you miserable, don’t I?” Leofric swallowed down the panic that she might actually get rid of him; it was for her, right? He wanted her to be happy, didn’t he? If he couldn’t fit himself into what she wanted, finding someone who could was the only solution.

Wasn’t it?

“I think finding another Kept–”

Eriko slapped him.

Leofric stared at her, the stinging on his cheek barely registering against the sudden, overwhelming realization that this wasn’t working; it wasn’t something he could make work. She’d hit him. He was fucking up so badly that she’d hit him.

“Don’t you ever, ever tell me what to do!”

“He might be right.” It took Leofric a moment to even realize who was talking: Aviv. The third, silent wheel in the crew, who didn’t do anything but have tentacles and stay out of the way.

Aviv was agreeing with him?

“Shut up, Aviv!” Eriko glared at Leofric, still furious. “You–”

“--worthless!“ The static noise suddenly turned clear – a woman’s voice, angry and disgusted. “You should just die!

Eriko turned to stare in shock at the television. Leofric stared at her, barely registering the voice as it kept going, spitting angry epithets and threats.

He wanted her to be happy. The only way she’d be happy is if she got rid of him; he realized that now. Leofric had to prove to her that wanting to be a good Kept wasn’t enough. He was a bad Kept. He was always going to be a bad Kept. He’d make himself accept that, stop trying to pretend otherwise, and prove it to her.

“Leofric! Make it stop!” Eriko abruptly grabbed him and shoved him at the television, as if trying to use it as a shield against the voice.

For a moment, he forgot about being useless and awful, remembering why he’d agreed to be hers in the first place: she was frightened, and he could protect her. With a thought and a crackle of lightning, the television blew and went dark.

For another moment, the guilt and pain faded. He’d made it stop; he’d fixed the static. Leofric started to turn back to his Keeper when he realized no, he’d broken it for real now. She was going to be furious. He…

He was a bad Kept, wasn’t he?

Bracing himself and taking a deep breath, he sent his power through the room again – another crackle of lightning, right on the heels of the other, and he bolted for the door as the lights blew with a crash.

Eriko screamed, but he didn’t slow, slamming the door behind him to plunge the suite back into darkness.

If she yelled at him to stop, he was already out of earshot.

Leofric made it to the stairs before enough of the adrenaline had worn off for the situation to start sinking in. He was running away. He was running away from Eriko. Doubts and second-guesses started flooding through him; it was almost enough to send him back, to throw himself at Eriko’s feet with apologies and promises never, ever to do it again.

But that would just put them back where they’d started, with Eriko miserable and him making her that way. Taking a deep breath, he pushed against the conviction to turn, to go back, and jogged up the stairs.

The library was a good place to get lost in, he decided. If he went there, she might not find him for hours.

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