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The thing was, Fuchsia liked her Keeper. She’d liked Pepper, in a sort of awkward way all around, even before he’d tricked her into becoming his Kept and turned out to be even shorter than she’d thought, a tiny pixie of a guy, which was sort of unfortunate in any school and really unfortunate in Addergoole.
Most of the time, Pepper was a pretty awesome guy. He was teaching her about Fae stuff, and helping her figure out the magic, but more than that, she just liked talking to him. For having grown up in totally different places, in totally different ways, they seemed to have a lot in common. If they could have just been friends, or even friends-and-maybe-lovers, well, that would have been great. And maybe she could have helped him with his mess a little easier.
But as it was, every time she tried to talk to him about it, she got another order.
“I don’t want to talk about it” wasn’t quite an order, that’s what she got the first morning. So she waited a few days, feeling her way around the edges of it, but she’d say something innocent, like “I like your hair today,” and he’d explode, or, worse yet, cry.
Fuchsia hadn’t seen a guy cry since she was five and she’d punched a boy on the playground for making fun of her name. She didn’t know what to do with it with Pepper. She tried making fun of him for it, but that just made him yell at her and tell her to shut up.
Fuchsia did not like being ordered to silence.
Poking him, or shaking him, or even trying to walk away and give him his space, none of those worked either. “He doesn’t act like any boy I know,” she complained to their mutual Mentor. “I don’t know what to do.” Professor Valerian smirked. “Have you tried treating him like a girl?
“No…” It gave her food for thought. The next time Pepper blew up over something innocent – she tried to brush his hair, missing physical contact with him – she asked him “what’s wrong?” and hugged his shoulders.
That didn’t work either. He curled up away from her. “Don’t ask me that.”
“Maybe your friends…?” She knew he had friends, even if they weren’t very good ones. They sat together at meals, at least.
“No! No, don’t tell them! Don’t ask them, either.”
“Okay, okay.” She tried, over the next few days, a couple other lines of attack. Every time she tried, she got another order. Everything she asked made him angry. Just shutting up and hugging him, that worked sometimes. She did a lot of that.
But he was still having bad dreams, and he was still jumpy about the weirdest things. And she couldn’t tell anyone. She certainly couldn’t tell Mendosa; he’d forbidden her to even think about him near the school psychiatrist. And she still didn’t know what was wrong.
“Don’t ask that. Don’t talk about that.” She was getting so many orders, pretty soon, he was going to end up ordering her not to breathe. And he was miserable and twitchy, and the hugging was working less and less often. She had to do something.
Don’t talk about that. Don’t ask about that. She chewed over it for days, looping around every order in her mind while she waited for an opportunity. Finally, she caught Wix, the closest thing Pepper had to a best bud, at lunch before Pepper showed up.
“Have you talked to Pepper about it?” she asked, putting as much emphasis on “it” as she dared, and hoping that there was an “it” for Wix to know about.
“About Jayline, you mean?”
“Jayline?” She knew the woman, a giant slab of muscle with a blue-jay hairdo, with a group of cronies in place of friends.
“Pep didn’t tell you? She Kept him last year… she’s a real hard case.”
“Jayline?” Burgundy plopped down in her seat next to Wix. “Did he talk to Mendosa like we told him? That bitch is good at leaving brain-booby-traps.”
Fuchsia couldn’t have spoken if she wanted to. She was feeling guilty having gone this far. Pepper clearly didn’t want his friends to know. She shouldn’t have said as much as she had.
“Here he comes now. Don’t worry, Foo, we’ll take care of it.” Burgundy stood back up, grabbing Wix and dragging him along. While Fuchsia watched, fighting against wave after wave of bond-panic, his friends picked Pepper up by his arms – he was a pixie, he weighed almost as little as Fuchsia herself did – and carried him out the door.
Uncomfortable hours later, he slipped into their shared room, looking drained and pale. “Foo…” His wings were drooping. Even his hair was drooping. But he wasn’t yelling.
Silently promising herself that she was going to lace Jayline’s food with poison Ivy, Fuchsia hugged her Keeper, and kept on hugging him. When he whispered “thank you,” she thought maybe everything was going to be okay.
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