Thursday, March 22, 2001
The weirdest thing, Abednego thought, was that he would run into an order he didn’t remember having anymore. He’d look up to say something and remember oh, yeah. That was only lifted for Joff. I can’t speak to Eris still. Or he’d think about going to the bathroom and stop, not because there was an order, but because his entire body clenched at the idea of doing that without permission.
And weirder was the way Rafe handled it. If he said something in private, Rafe acted surprised. If he said something in public, Rafe acted horrified and embarrassed and – scared, he acted scared.
Abednego had no idea what was going on, but he could make the asshole who Owned him scared. He thought that was pretty cool, on some level.
He sat down at lunch – at the table, in a chair, like a person, which still felt weird. and shifted his body until he was looking at Rafe. He had permission to eat, of course. He had a blanket order that he could eat, now. But his body didn’t want to acknowledge that. He picked up his fork and he started to retch.
Rafe looked at him and frowned. “What – oh.” His frown deepened. “I told you, you can eat whenever you want.”
Abednego waited. He didn’t have to say anything, and it was better if he didn’t. He didn’t want to contradict Rafe, for one, especially not in front of his crew. And for another…
Rafe squirmed. He looked like he was trying not to, but he shifted in his seat and moved backwards a little bit.
“Rafe…?” Joff asked, his eyebrows raised, and then he frowned at Abednego. “Sorry, I’ll stay out of it.”
Abednego didn’t know what Joff had read in his emotions. He wasn’t always quite clear what he was feeling, these days, as he tried to sort out what was him from what was the orders. But he nodded politely to Joff in appreciation. Joff getting involved – Eris getting involved – anyone, especially the teachers, getting involved – just made everything harder to handle. This was easier if he didn’t think about people watching him do this dance.
Rafe shifted again and sighed. “You have permission, you know.”
Abednego waited. He knew. It didn’t matter. And even if it did matter, he was going to wait until Rafe said it. He asked permission for everything. Everything. And if Rafe had suddenly decided he didn’t like that anymore – well, it was too late for both of them, for that.
“Damnit.” It didn’t have any anger in it; he sounded more defeated than anything. “All right.” He patted Abednego’s shoulder in apology. “You may eat.”
“Thank you, sir.” He started eating, carefully – his stomach was still not really trustworthy – but not too slowly. Across the table, Eris shifted and twitched. On a bad day, she did a lot of that.
“So Mendosa thinks I’m nuts, thanks.” She was probably talking to Abednego. It was the second time she’d said it.
But he wasn’t allowed to talk to her, so he didn’t look at her.
“She didn’t say you were nuts,” Joff protested.
She should have. Abednego, of course, said none of that.
“She said that I was unstable – which I knew, hello, named for Chaos – and that I was having difficulty perceiving the world around me, which, well, no. I’m right here. The world is right here.’ She put her hand down flat on the table. “Waste of time. I’m not going to let her tinker with my mind, no matter how many times she asks, and there’s nothing that can be done by sitting there and talking.”
“She could, well, she could give you some calming drugs,” Joff suggested.
“Oh, yay, shut me down! That’s just what I want.” She flailed broadly with both hands.
Abednego ate. He ate methodically, slowly, and without looking up.
“You don’t have to go back,” Rafe started, “if you think it’s a waste of-”
“Yeah, she does.” Abednego looked straight at Joff even as he interrupted his Owner. “You know it and I know it. Drugs would be a great idea, because her Change is making her psychotic and she has a bad case of PTSD, which anyone would have after an hour with my brothers, much less after a whole year. You all do. You all need some good therapy, but Dr. Mendosa is all we have and yeah, she has to go back. Before she breaks someone else’s arm. Or worse.”
“Abed-” Rafe began, and Abednego hung his head and managed to look like he was embarrassed. He wasn’t. He knew Joff knew it. He knew Joff would get the point. And he glanced up through his lashes at Joff and saw Joff looking very thoughtful and a little worried.
“He has a point,” Joff said very slowly. “We’re…” He frowned and shot a glance at Zeke. “We’re a mess. We should be getting better, I think, but something is – I always thought we just had to get away from them and everything would go back to normal.”
“But,” Zeke said, his deep voice quiet and just as thoughtful as his Owner’s, “you left ‘normal’ behind when you came here. Hell, from what I know, you didn’t have a normal life before you came here – I don’t know about the other two – but still. All your memories of this place have to be a bit tainted. The best way to get better would be to get out of here.”
Abednego couldn’t help the desperate laugh that escaped his lips. “Fuck,” he muttered. “Sorry, sorry, man, it’s just, that’s what I thought when I left home. I was getting out from them, away from where they’d been-”
“Shit.” Eris’ voice was soft and horrified. “We’re even still in the same fucking suite. We’re just… flooded with them. And then there’s you, little Meshach clone. Hanging around looking like him every day.”
He looked at Joff, because he still couldn’t talk to Eris. “I didn’t impose myself on you three. That wasn’t my choice. But if I’m here – get help. Get a vacation away from here. Paint the walls. That helped me. Change everything that stinks of them.”
They were listening to him. He could tell. More than that, they were a little afraid to not listen to him.
Abednego smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant expression, and he could tell by the way Joff shivered exactly what it looked like.
“You are going to get over those assholes, damnit.”
He didn’t sound like himself, but he knew exactly who he sounded like. He found he didn’t mind that at all.