Thursday, January 4, 2001
Abednego couldn’t help but notice the fuss on the other side of the dining hall.
He was pretty sure they noticed it in the next state (even if he was a little confused what state that might be, here underground). Arna – what had Arnbjörg been up to? She’d stomped right up to that table with the six-armed girl and her friends, just like she stomped up everywhere. Abednego had tried not to cringe, but he hadn’t bothered not watching. She was glowering at the six-armed girl and the collared boy next to him.
“What does she think she’s up to?” Eris sounded fascinated. It was the first time Eris had sounded interested in anything since Zita left. (Left. Was taken. Was “rescued”. Was gone). Abednego wasn’t sure that boded well for whatever she was interested in.
“It looks like she’s talking to family,” Sequoia offered. “Didn’t you say everyone here’s related? I’d put money on her being related to Ayla and Vi there.”
“Well, if she’s related to them, she’s related to almost everyone. But what’s that – oooh, it’s Callista’s Kept this year. The redheaded boy. Look at her.” Eris gestured like she was imitating the conversation. “Ooh.” She leaned forward over the table, almost reaching Abednego. “This’s gonna be interesting. Callista’s not going to stand for that, not after three years under the collar. But what’s Io gonna do? And the fifth-Cohort blondies?”
She didn’t seem to need any input, and Abednego couldn’t have offered it if he’d wanted to. He didn’t lean back, though, just watched as Arnbjorg got in the six-armed girl’s face and shouted at her.
“Oh.” Joff sounded surprised. “She’s angry. And protective? Maybe over Rory? He feels pretty mortified…”
“Is that,” Abednego asked before he could stop himself, “the ‘oh god stop bringing attention to me and this stupid collar’ kind of mortified or the ‘please don’t piss her off, it only makes it worse’ sort?”
Everyone at the table shot him a look. Rafe’s was strangely thoughtful. Eris’ was confused. Joff’s was, he thought, surprised, although the empath was way too good at hiding his own emotions.
“It’s… somewhere in between those two,” Joff admitted, his expression sliding into a worried frown. “He doesn’t want her to – oh. Oh, wow.” It had gone from shouting to violence. Joff pulled back physically and squeezed his eyes shut as if that would keep out the feelings, leaning into Sequoia’s arms. “Wow.”
A minute later the fight had gone from just Arnbjörg and Callista to Arnbjörg, Jaya, Sheba, Ioanna, and Yngvi. Arms were flying everywhere. And then just as quickly it all stopped.
From the little that Abednego could tell, it had to do with Rory. He left the cafeteria holding his food.
Abednego looked down at his own tray and wondered what one had to do to get that sort of fight to happen.
Not be related to Shadrach and Meshach, obviously. He waited, patiently, to see if Rafe remembered that he hadn’t given Abednego permission to eat yet.
“Oh, for crying out loud, kid, eat,” Eris complained.
Abednego froze. He couldn’t answer her. He couldn’t disobey her orders. He couldn’t disobey Rafe’s orders. He couldn’t tell her any of that. He couldn’t tell her why he wasn’t eating. And Rafe was ignoring him completely.
Maybe if he passed out in the middle of the lunch room from pain, someone would notice.
He made a tight noise he couldn’t quite stop in the back of his throat and let himself lean against Rafe a little. His head was pounding. His hands were twitching. He was pretty sure some of the furniture was moving on its own, and he didn’t see Zita close by enough to make that happen. They weren’t going to have to worry about him turning into his brothers. He was just going to go crazy and they could lock him in a padded room where he couldn’t hurt anyone.
Maybe in a padded room the orders would make sense.
The second time, the keening noise came out despite all his attempts to stop it. He slunk down on the floor. He didn’t care who saw anymore. Nobody was going to do anything no matter how pitiful he looked. They’d probably like it.
Somewhere in the back of his head, a voice snapped stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something. He considered the voice. He considered his options. He shifted his body so he was as visible as possible to as many people as possible and put his head on Rafe’s lap.
As far as defiances went, it was a pretty pitiful one. He wasn’t breaking any rules — he had already ascertained that he really couldn’t — and he was looking about as submissive as humanly possible. On the other hand, he was looking submissive and, well, affectionate, which was not normally something that his master encouraged, even in private.
He was looking like a slave, he admitted to himself. Some part of him burned with it. The rest of him was far too used to pretending submission to survive.
Rafe looked down at him. Abednego let himself whine. He was still being pressed on — eat, don’t eat, obey Eris, don’t talk to Eris…
“What’s wrong with him?” Eris asked, sounding more curious than anything. “He’s acting like a kicked puppy. Careful, don’t want the Student Council to notice, Rafe. They might think you’re abusing the little whelp.”
No they wouldn’t. Abednego let himself whine again. Kicked puppy. Whelp. He could be a dog. He could be a dog that didn’t understand and was in pain. He could do that just fine.
Dogs, he reminded himself quietly, were not what his brothers were. That made it all that much better.
It worked, or at least it got Rafe’s attention. “Tell me what’s wrong, puppy.” The term almost sounded affectionate.
Abednego settled on the immediate wrong. “Lady ordered me to eat.” He wasn’t going to risk saying her name, and mistress wasn’t right.
“Ah, puppy, mmm. Here.” Rafe held his burger down where Abendego could take a bite. “You can eat a couple bites, there you go.”
“Thank you, sir.” Abednego ate his bites of burger and stayed where he was. Puppy hadn’t been what he was aiming for, but it was the gentlest Rafe had been to him in a long time.
As he nibbled fries, he wondered what he’d end up like if he stayed puppy all school year.