Written by Wysteria.
Sheba went to visit her kids at night, walking through walls as if they weren’t there. It gave Zita time to think, applying the ruthless cold logic she’d learned sharing a suite with Joff, an empath she was not supposed to upset. It wasn’t emotions if it was logic.
The wall shimmered as Sheba appeared (by magic, that was still cool), and Zita let her breath out and met her new Keeper’s eyes directly.
Showtime. “Good evening.”
Sheba’s spotted ears turned towards Zita. “Good evening.” The voice said unsurprised and the ears said surprised.
Zita would believe the ears, she decided. “Can we talk for a few minutes?” She tried to keep her posture and tone neutral, and couldn’t tell if she was succeeding.
“Certainly.” Sheba slipped into a cross-legged position on the bed. “What’s up?”
She was now eye-level with Zita, who was curled up sideways against the head of the bed. She had chosen the position carefully, neither standing nor kneeling.
“I want you to let me go,” she recited, so she wouldn’t think about the words, and ignored the twist in her stomach. “I know it wouldn’t be safe, but I would like you to trust me. Please.”
She’d been very good for Sheba up until now, in that mix of ambition and terror that had gotten her into trouble with Eris, putting on her best submissive manners every time Sheba was in the room. Zita wanted to be a good Kept. She’d also not trusted Sheba as far as she could throw her, even if Mags and Howard both vouched for her.
This – this required trust.
Sheba studied her. “…You know I’m unlikely to. But I’d like to hear your reasons, please.”
Well, that was a nice dose of helpless guilt Zita hadn’t really needed in her life.
“It doesn’t work if I explain.” She started to nibble on a claw, then stopped. Oh, right. Fangs. She still wasn’t used to the fangs.
Sheba’s studying gaze got thoughtful. “Trust.” She spoke quietly, carefully. “It’s a rare commodity here.”
That seemed entirely accurate, but Zita wasn’t sure why she was the one no one trusted, when she wasn’t the one going around tricking people, threatening them with knives, and buying them.
Maybe it was because of the incident where she’d tried to hit that guy with the desk. That hadn’t been entirely reasonable. Focus, Zita. Focus, please? Your Keeper wants a reason, and you can’t tell her the real one, but you’re pretty sure she’s not evil. Like, eighty percent sure. Huh, that could work….
“I have one reason I can share? I asked, and I’m…” Zita gave Sheba a look through her eyelashes, which had become much more of a production now that her eyelashes had been designed by a cartoonist. “I’m about ninety percent certain you aren’t evil.”
“Well, thank you. I’m about eighty-five percent certain on that one, but it could be observer bias.”
Zita giggled at the echo of her own thoughts.
“Flattery, actually, but same difference,” Zita said, and smiled, feeling like maybe she was able to breathe after all.
“You know it’ll be harder for me to get you free a second time, right?”
“I’ve thought about it, I promise.”
Sheba’s ears twitched. “You can’t take Eriko. Not yet.”
Now, there was a thought Zita hadn’t really thought, but thinking about Eriko hurt in a way nothing else here did. This place was a lot of firsts, for Zita – first girlfriend, first time kneeling in front of someone completely at their mercy and realizing that this was someplace she wanted to be, if not for a whole host of external circumstances that were very annoying, first time a girlfriend accidentally dislocated her arm and took her to the school nurse for rope burns and expert magical healing, first time trying magical healing, first time really fighting someone, first time biting someone (since she was six, anyway), first time accidentally poisoning her Keeper and them going to the nurse again because Eris was turning blue and couldn’t move that arm. First time being rescued.
Eriko, though, Zita tried not to think about Eriko. Despite a few scuffles with upperclassmen, Zita wasn’t a fighter. (She wasn’t a fighter yet. But that wasn’t a thought you had in the same room as your Keeper. Focus, Zita.)
“I know. It isn’t about Eriko. Or Eris. Just me.”
Sheba considered. “I’d tell you it was going to hurt, but you already know that.”
Zita nodded, wishing Sheba was as easy to read as Eris. She couldn’t tell if Sheba was really thinking about it, or just trying to let her down easy, help her ‘adjust’ to not being human anymore, to no human rules applying anymore.
Zita had been doing a lot of adjusting.
“…don’t tell Arnbjörg.” Sheba seemed to come to a decision. “Very well, Zita cy’Caitrin, I release you.”
Zita nodded. You had to accept it. She’d accepted it the first time, with Eris and Sheba glaring at each other, because there hadn’t seemed to be a choice. Now there was a choice.
If having a Keeper was having a sun to orbit around, a center of the galaxy, then losing one felt like being flung off into space, cold and alone. Distantly, Zita heard herself whine, and felt herself curl up more tightly into a ball. It was never going to end. Nothing to hold onto, nothing to depend on, unneeded, unwanted.
As Zita should have predicted, it made her want to break things. Tear her new collar off, shred her skin with her claws, tear that new dress Sheba had gotten her for the dance to pieces. The only thing that worked that she’d found so far, with this mood, was to hold still until it went away.
She could run right now, out into the hallways and get into the first fight she saw, like Arna. She would love someone to fight, someone to try to take her, someone to try out her latest battle strategy (“Always have a strategy,” Leo lectured in her mind.) Leo. Leo was a calm center, too, when nothing else was. She had to do this right, she had to not need rescuing, so that someone would look at Leo and see.
“That is not the fun kind of pain,” Zita managed.
Sheba petted her back gently.
“No, no, it’s really not. You’re brave to make your way through it.”
Zita leaned into her.
“I wanted – I want. It’ll come back to me in a minute.”
She had to do this right. What had she been going to do right? There had been bullet points. None of them had been ‘bite everything, let god sort it out.’ Zita was proud of that.
“Not going anywhere,” Sheba said, and Zita was startled to realize she’d tuned Sheba’s presence out while she thought. She hadn’t thought it was possible to tune a Keeper’s presence out – oh. Oh, right. She’d forgotten. The touch still felt good, soothing, and that meant this hadn’t been the worst idea.
She said something vaguely acknowledging, and went back to trying to put her scattered thoughts and rampaging emotions in order. Right. So, how would this have gone without Eris, without that truly humiliating moment where Eris had gotten the ultimatum and caved as if Zita was just a troublesome stray cat she’d considered adopting – another first. So many firsts at this school.
“Hi. So. …did you even want to Keep me, really?” Or were you just chosen by lottery or something, by the Council.
“Well, yes. It wasn’t just a protective custody sort of thing.”
“Still want to now you’ve gotten to know me?” Zita asked, feeling dry and remembering the hiding and the crying jags and the hissing at Sheba’s suite-mates and the throwing things. She really hadn’t meant to throw things. Or the time Sheba had had to come get her after dodgeball in the gym had turned into tackle the entire opposing team in the face at the gym, and then climbing one of the gym machines and ending up tree’d like a cat and just as unwilling to come down.
At least with Sheba Zita didn’t end up in the nurse’s office covered in blood with Dr. Caitrin making that pinched, neutral face, but that wasn’t really saying much, was it?
“Oh, come on, you’re hardly even the most unstable person in the room, much less in my life.” Sheba gave her a crooked smile, and Zita tried once more to focus. “I like you. And you’re a fun sub, which is a super bonus.”
Was she? Zita certainly liked that part, the only part she’d always liked, the thing that had drawn her into her little game of tease-and-chase with Eris in the first place, and she wanted to like it more, but she hadn’t thought she was good at it. She was too new, too weird.
“I try,” she said, and tried unsuccessfully to keep all of that out of her tone.
“I suppose,” Sheba said quietly, “the question is if you enjoy me as a top and as a keeper. And as a girlfriend.”
Was that the question? It was a good question, but the safety argument was still foremost in Zita’s mind. This was about them, not about the school. Zita had no illusions about her ability to walk out into the halls of Addergoole and not end the day with a new collar around her neck. Did she enjoy Sheba? She hadn’t exactly been thinking about enjoyment lately, just survival, keeping herself from going screaming off the deep end…. Still, Sheba was nice. Solid. (Curvy, too.)
“I’ve been – drowning. I haven’t been thinking. But I do like you.”
“I’m glad.” Sheba was still petting her. “I’ve noticed, but I haven’t been sure how to get through without hurting you. Eris did a number on you?”
“Her, my Change, this place – not being able to help anyone – I can’t tell any of them apart. I can’t tell if I’m really this angry or sad or happy or if it’s just… moods. You help.”
“I’m glad. I like helping people.”
Zita cuddled cautiously closer, taking that as a good a cue as she would get. Still, girlfriends… girlfriends were solid, too, equal in a way Zita couldn’t find in her head anymore. Girlfriends planned for futures that didn’t involve superhero costumes, talked about going to colleges in the same place, were like Arna and Jaya, sweet and sheltered and not wondering which of their friends were being- were hurting tonight. Focus, Zita. Focus, don’t think about that. Focus.
“Do you want to be my Keeper, then? I’m not sure I’m together enough to be a good girlfriend, but I’d like to be a good Kept.”
“I’d like to be your Keeper, yes.”
Well, then. Deep breath.
“I belong to you, Sheba cy’Mendosa.”
“You belong to me, Zita cy’Caitrin.” Sheba kissed her forehead. “Thank you.”
Zita smiled up at her, as things settled back into place, though her nerves were still tingling. Some sort of tlacatl reaction? She’d ask Dr. Caitrin…. Focus, Zita. Now you can explain.
“I just – I wanted something clean. I don’t think that’s so common here, either.”
“No… no, I don’t think it is. I understand, and I understand why you couldn’t tell me.”
Zita hugged her keeper firmly, and was hugged back just as firmly. This, this was a memory she could hold close to herself at bad moments, and keep to herself. She didn’t think Howard would understand, and….
Zita chuckled softly.
“What is it?” Sheba asked, the sound rumbling through her warm frame pressed against Zita. Zita rested her forehead against Sheba’s shoulder.
“We’re definitely never telling Arnbjörg any of this. Not ever.”
Tell Arna that Sheba had let Zita out from under the collar? Tell Arna that Zita had asked for it back? No, thank you. Zita didn’t need more yelling in her life.
“No. No, we’re not. She would throw so many things and say “no” at us until her face turned blue.”
Sheba giggled, and Zita giggled, too, because this could have gone so wrong and had gone so right, and she wasn’t trapped, she was just sheltered from the storm.
She kissed her Keeper, drawing her close, and turned out the bedroom light with a moment of concentration on her strange new telekinetic sense.