Friday, December 8, 2000
“I keep saying that wasn’t me, it wasn’t him! It’s not how these things work!” Rafe had been arguing with Joff on and off since the – the thing. The demon, Abednego called it in his mind, even though he’d been through enough history classes here to know that demon was usually another word for faerie. Close enough, in his estimation.
“Look, it might not have been you, but – things have to change, Rafe. What are you doing to the kid?”
No, not this again. The last time they’d had this argument, the demon had come.
“I’m teaching him.”
“All right. Then what we’re going to do is, we’re all going to teach him.”
No, gods no. He didn’t think he could handle that. Hadn’t Rafe said he wasn’t going to share him? No…
“I’m not going to be Liza,” Rafe snarled. “I am not going to pass him around. No.”
“It doesn’t look like you’re being Liza at all, not from here.” Joff’s voice had dropped down to a whisper. “It looks more like you’re being Meshach. Just give him to me for a couple hours a week. I won’t hurt him. I won’t even touch him. You have my word on it.”
This was getting weirder and weirder. “Fine!” Rafe snarled. He grabbed Abednego’s arm and hauled him to his feet. “There. Go with Joff for an hour. Do what he tells you to do. You can speak to him, too, for that hour. Just – go, so he leaves me alone.”
The hell was – well, he was going to go with Joff, and do what the guy told him to do, that’s what he was supposed to do. He nodded cautiously down at Joff.
“Come on.” Joff’s voice was gentle. “You’re going to come sit outside with me for a bit. Ready?”
“Joff. You can call me Joff, okay? I’m not anyone’s sir.”
“Oh, come on, Joff, don’t try to convince him not to be trained,” Rafe complained. “You’re just going to confuse him.”
“You said you’d give me an hour, Rafe. That hour starts now. Abednego, just follow me for now, all right?”
“All right.” That seemed safe enough.
He followed Joff out of Rafe’s room, out of the suite, down the hall. He didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say.
When they were a good distance from the suite, Joff cleared his throat. “It’s hard,” he said very softly. “I want to help. But I know that if I get him worked up, he’s going to take it out on you, because you’re there, and because he – because we all – see one or the other of them in your face.”
“I’m not them,” Abednego risked. “I never have been.”
“I can tell.” Joff pointed at Abednego’s forehead. “I read emotions. Your emotions, they’re not… they’re not like either of theirs. I guess someone could argue that I’d have to hand you a knife and give you someone you were allowed to hurt, to really kno- shit. Sorry. Easy. Nobody’s going at anyone with a knife.”
Abednego swallowed. “You read emotions?”
“I do. I have to be looking, but – sorry – I looked.”
“I -” Abednego shrugged. “I don’t have any privacy anymore.”
“No, not really. It could be worse – but I don’t think I have to tell you that, do I?”
Abednego gave that due consideration. He thought about the way Eris acted when he wasn’t supposed to be watching, and the way Rafe sometimes looked at night. He cleared his throat. “They were my brothers. Half-brothers,” he added quietly. “That didn’t mean they were my friends, but uh. They never…” He stopped. “I can’t say the words.”
“Can’t, orders, or can’t, can’t stand to?”
“Somewhere between?” He wasn’t really sure. The images were in his mind, but there was a wall: “You don’t have to think about this part. Maybe it’s best to just forget about it for a while.“ It hadn’t quite been an order, that time. He had a feeling it had been, another time.
“Okay.” Joff looked both sympathetic and annoyed, which was an interesting combination on his pretty face. “Here we go. I promised I wouldn’t touch you, so… just close your eyes and walk straight forward from when I say go to when I say stop.”
Abednego didn’t have any choice, so he closed his eyes.
“Go.” He walked straight forward, wondering what he was going to do when he hit the wall. Probably keep walking, of course. Nothing else to do. That was the best and worst thing about orders: they didn’t give you any wiggle room at all.
The air changed temperature, and Abednego felt warmth on his face. “Stop. You can open your eyes.”
Abednego opened his eyes. He was outside – in a meadow of some sort, with gently rolling hills blocking any distant view. The air was crisp but warmer than it ought to be, and the sun was high in the sky.
He turned around slowly. There was a wall behind him, brick, no door. He turned a little more.
“This is the outside,” Joff offered, almost apologetically. “If we go over this way, there’s an orchard and some nice benches.”
It wasn’t an order. Abednego strolled, feeling no pressure. It was a strange sensation.
“You haven’t Changed yet, have you?” Joff asked quietly. “It’s been… a while.”
“I haven’t. Am I supposed to have?”
“Well… I’m pretty sure Rafe’s not starving you, but…” Joff frowned. “You know why, right?”
That wasn’t what Abednego wanted to hear. He sat down at the first bench he found, mood too soured to even enjoy the sunlight. “Yeah. Shadrach and Meshach. They were assholes, they hurt everyone. And now I’m here and they’re not.” Which he’d thought, for a couple stupid minutes, would actually be a good thing.
Joff was quiet for a minute. “Your Change will come. And the Keeping, it only lasts a year at the longest. I’ll talk-”
“No.” Abednego flinched at his own voice, harsh and angry. “No. Talking just makes him mad. And he’s not going to listen, not to what he needs to. He’s never, ever going to believe that I’m not my brothers.
“Talking just makes him tell me more things. Makes him jittery. Just – it’s only a year.” If he didn’t Change, maybe they’d send him home. “I lasted my brothers a lot longer than that. I can handle the rest of the year.”
He was pretty sure he was full of shit, but he was also pretty sure it didn’t matter. He leaned back and felt the sun on his face. “Thanks for this, though…” He breathed in air that almost tasted free. “It’s a nice change.”