Chapter 26: Arnbjörg

She had horns now.

Arnbjörg looked at herself in the mirror again. She had small budding horns poking out of her hairline – out of her skull, too – which went with a ridiculous fuzzy black tail that seemed to grow right out of her spine.

“No hooves,” Jaya had said, when they had left Dr. Caitrin’s last week, and Arnbjörg couldn’t tell if she was disappointed or pleased or neither. Later, Niki had explained Ty’s hooves and tail – but not horns – which had mostly left Arnbjörg even more confused about how to feel about the whole thing.

Either way, she had horns and a tail, and hooves did not seem to be in the picture for her. She turned around to study the tail and then tucked it back into her pants.

“Your Mentor will probably teach you how to Mask that pretty quickly, if you want to hide it,” Jaya offered from the bed. She’d been first apologetic and then subdued ever since the Horns and Tail incident, as Arnbjörg had thought of it (rather than thinking of it as the Stop Complaining incident, which left her feeling miserable, angry, and guilty far more often than she wanted to admit to).

“I kind of like them,” Arnbjörg admitted. “They look like if they grow in, they’ll make me look fierce. The horns,” she added, “not so much the tail. The tail’s a little ridiculous.”

She sat down on the edge of the bed, not sure what to do about the distance between her and Jaya. “The Mask, that’s the thing that – hides what you look like?”

“Sort of.” Jaya shifted until she was looking directly at Arnbjörg. “So, with me,” she closed her eyes and he opened them, “this part, that’s actual shape-shifting.” His voice was even deeper. “It was nice to not be stuck in-between,” he added wistfully.

A surge of guilt washed over Arnbjörg. “I-” She reached out, but she didn’t really want to cuddle this male version of her girlfriend. Of her Keeper. It seemed weird. She swallowed instead. “Is it safe to complain?”

She felt even more awful for the horrid way that made Jay – Jamian? He’d said Jamian – cringe. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s safe to complain. And it’s always okay to complain about pain or injury, no matter what other orders I give you.”

“Careful,” Arnbjörg teased weakly, “I used to get hurt all the time, back at my old school. You might get sick of me complaining pretty quickly.”

“That’s fine.” Jamian nodded firmly. “Honestly. I’d rather you complain ‘till you’re blue in the face than end up hurt and not able to tell me. It’s just….” Jamian looked away. “Look, when I came here, it was like, some place where I’m not the freak. I know Shahin felt the same way – okay, Shahin got a little irritated about it, if I’m being honest.”

From what Arnbjörg had seen of Shahin, somehow she wasn’t too surprised. “She’s the sort that likes to be out there, isn’t she?”

“She is,” Jamian agreed. Why was he still Jamian? Why was he still he? “I’m not. I spent my whole life hiding what I was. So uh. You didn’t like anything about here.” He shrugged and looked away. “And you were pretty clear on not liking guys. So I figured, the whole ‘sometimes I’m a guy’ thing could wait until maybe you’d settled in a bit and weren’t angry at everything.”

“The problem is,” Arnbjörg inserted, “is that I pretty much hate everyone and I’m angry all the time.”

She expected some sort of snide or short comment, so she was surprised when Jamian just said “that’s got to be exhausting.”

“Well, ah. Sometimes it is, yeah. But – I mean. If it hadn’t been for Melchior…”

“Yeah, Yeah.” Jamian held up both hands. “I know, and that was stupid, and it was awful, and I’m really sorry. I am. I know better. And Mel – I had a nice long talk with him, and he’s going to back off. It’s just, uh. Most people get freaked out by the tusks, so he gets lonely, and me, they’ve never bugged me. And last year, when Ty would get awful sometimes -”

“Ty or Tya?” Arnbjörg interrupted, even though she felt kind of awful for interrupting. “Sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other.”

“That’s the thing with Ty-Tya.” Jamian smiled crookedly. “It’s how I got hooked in, you know. Sometimes Ty was Ty and sometimes Tya, and that was the first time in my life I’d met someone like me.”

“That… makes a lot of sense. But sometimes Ty-Tya was awful?” She was beginning to get a sense for what awful could be, listening to Howard bellow and listening to other people mutter and whisper.

“Oh, sometimes. She’s… well, she’s absolutely the most self-centered person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something.” Jamian, Arnbörg thought, looked a little guilty. “But when she was bad, I could go spend time with Melchior, and since Ty and I were both cy’Linden, nobody expected us to be faithful.”

“I…” What could she say to that. It wasn’t like she was in charge. “I expect girlfriends to be faithful.”

Jamian cringed, looked away, and was Jaya again when she looked back. “Okay, I deserved that.”

“But, did you? I mean.” Arnbjörg frowned back at Jaya. “I mean, are you my girlfriend? Am I your girlfriend?”

Jaya winced. “I deserved that, too. And uh. You deserve an answer. I sort of pulled the girlfriend-Kept bait-and-switch thing on you, and I didn’t really mean to, but uh… welcome to Addergoole?” She shrugged uncomfortably. “So – do you still want to be? ‘Cause if not, we can renegotiate what Keeping looks like or, um. Find someone to Keep you that won’t, well. Doesn’t turn into a guy.”

“No fair making me feel guilty about it while you’re trying to give me a choice,” Arnbjörg muttered.

“Sorry. Look. You can be my girlfriend or not. It’s your choice.”

“Can I – can we try it? I mean, I guess we gotta live together, but can we try normal dating, or at least as normal as this place gets? Just for a while?”

Jaya smiled slowly. “I’ve never done it,” she admitted. “But I’d be willing to try it, sure.”

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