Interlude: Joff

Joff woke up from a nightmare to find Zeke’s hand on his shoulder, his lover’s face just a few inches from his.  “Joff?  Joff, man, you were – you were doing that thing again.”

Doing that thing was fairly vague, but the worried expression and the emotions pulsing off of Zeke explained it well enough.  “It was – it was Meshach again.”  He had been feeling something from Rafe’s room.  He’d thought he’d gotten pretty decent at screening out Abednego’s low-level unhappiness, but this had been – different.  Self-disgust, anger, waves and waves and unhappiness and fear and panic.  It was like Abednego was going through his first week of being Kept, a bad first week of being Kept, all at once.

Joff had fallen into  – fallen into the closet, he thought, trapped and bound and naked and afraid and cold.  He had been so cold.  He pulled himself into a sitting position and accepted the comfort of Zeke’s arms and Zeke’s warmth. The warmer he was, the less likely he’d remember what it’d been like, before.

He found himself staring at the wall between his room and Rafe’s.  Someone was awake over there, and there were miserable; someone was asleep, and they weren’t happy.

“You didn’t…” he whispered.  Rafe knew he was an empath.  He wouldn’t have…

“Didn’t what?” Zeke asked quietly.  “What’s going on?”

“I’m wondering if – no.  No, Rafe isn’t trying to be a bad guy, he wouldn’t do that.  He’d have to be trying to hide it.  He’d have to be willingly…”  Joff shook his head.  The moods that were washing out of that room.  “Zeke, can you get me two of the little red pills?”

Zeke frowned.  “The sedatives?  You told me those were only for emergencies.”

Zeke was a good Kept.   More than that, he was a good boyfriend and a good friend.  Joff swallowed a momentary pang of guilt.  He was allowed to have friends that weren’t Rafe and Eris.  He was allowed to have friends that weren’t broken.

He was allowed to have friends who had a healthy sense of what constituted an emergency, because he was pretty sure he didn’t.

“Does the urge to carve a hole in the wall between our room and Rafe’s count?  Because I’m not sure if I want to hug him or knock him into next week.”

Zeke gave that due consideration.  Joff could just order – no, no he couldn’t.  He’d put in safeguards when he’d gotten Dr. Caitrin to give him the sedatives.  Zeke had an order that orders about pills weren’t orders, and if that wasn’t proof enough that the Keeping could be a mess, Joff didn’t know what was.

“Why don’t you sit here with me and tell me about it?” Zeke offered.  He patted his chest and Joff obligingly leaned back against the wide, warm chest of his aptly-named Sequoia.  “Then, if you still want the pill, I’ll get it for you.”

It should have felt bad to put part of his decision-making process in someone else’s hands so completely.  It felt safe.  Joff snuggled a little closer and closed his eyes.

“The way that room feels right now, someone just realized something horrible had been happening.  Has been happening to them to a while?  It’s like Abednego just woke up and realized he was being Kept by – by a monster, I guess.  Just realized things had been happening to him that he didn’t like.”

“I didn’t think Rafe was any good at Mind Workings?” Zeke offered cautiously.

“He’s not.  But you wouldn’t need to be, you just need to be an asshole about the bond.  I just, well, I didn’t think Rafe was that sort of asshole.”

“What do you mean?”  Zeke’s fingers were running through Joff’s hair, untangling sleep-tousled curls and massaging his scalp.

“I – urgh.  I could show you, but.  Well, you can order your Kept to do anything, to stop thinking about something, to stop feeling something, to stop wanting something.  So if I told you to stop breathing, or to stop worrying about something, or to stop thinking about, say, home…”

Zeke’s hands stilled.  “It can do that?”

“It can do that and so much worse.  It can make you stop minding things.  But the thing is, then you’d have to – to feel like Abednego is …”  Joff stilled.  “I am going to kill Rafe.  I really am. I am going to murder him in his sleep and then I am going to bring him back and murder him again.”

“Easy, easy.”  Zeke startled into motion, cuddling Joff tightly against his chest.  “Murder is against the rules, remember?”

“I remember.”  He couldn’t forget.  How many times had he heard that…?  “But what he’s done ought to be.”

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