After <a href=http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/565158.html
>Paint it Blue, for my Third Finish It Bingo Card..
For a while – a week, nearly two weeks – Clarisse thought that her Keeper had forgotten the incident.
She was both relieved and annoyed: relieved because it meant that he was not going to pursue some sort of punishment for her mouthiness. He was not, as a rule, the punishing sort, but she was normally not the defiant sort, at least not in a manner he’d recognize. Annoyed because it was important, very important, and he was unfortunately important to her. He should understand her better – or, at least, it would be pleasant if he did.
Two weeks later she came home from her magic class – Yaku, and nobody at all was surprised that she was good with water, were they? – to find him tinkering with a wheelchair. Not her wheelchair; she was in that. This one had wide wheels and a more supporting foot-plate, a smaller profile and a better place for her backpack where she could actually reach it.
“It’s not done yet,” he greeted her. “But I installed a grab bar in the kitchen, too. I know you can hold yourself up for a little while if you have something like that.” He tilted his head at the dorm’s tiny kitchenette where, indeed, he’d run a bar the length of the cabinets. “So.” He set down the wench and looked up at Clarisse. “Who are you?”
“I…” She backed her wheelchair up and looked at him cautiously. “I’m sorry?”
“You said I don’t get to decide who you are.”
So he had remembered. Clarisse nodded cautiously. His expression was giving nothing away.
“So, who are you, then, blue-haired girl?”
Clarisse ran her fingers over the grips of her wheelchair. This was not a direction she’d expected him to take. “I’m not sure yet,” she admitted. “I never expected the mermaid thing.”
“That adds on. It doesn’t change your core. Well…” He frowned. “Sometimes it messes with your brain, Changes. Are you feeling a need to go swimming?”
“All the time,” she admitted, before she could stop herself. “Problem is, I can’t swim. No pools where I grew up.”
“That does put a damper in it.” He studied her. “Also, — oh, hrrm.” He shook his head. “Another day. Today is about who you are.”
“Why interested all of a sudden?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “You didn’t care when you jumped me in the hall. Or put a collar on me, or any of that.”
“Hey, I’d been watching you for a while. Problem is, I didn’t realize you were flying false flags. Or maybe I suck at semaphore.”
“Sema… oh.” She snorted. “You mean the blue hair?”
“Usually means ‘pay attention to me’.” He fiddled very pointedly with the wheelchair he was working on, not looking at her.
Clarisse smirked, although he couldn’t see it. “Ah. Mine means, ‘Don’t tell me how to look.’”
“Parents?” Now he looked at her.
“Parents, teachers at my old school, other relatives…” She shrugged. “Grown-ups in general.” A sudden suspicion overtook her. “Shit, you’re not gonna make me dye it back or magic it back, are you?”
He snorted. “I don’t think I’d dare…. But, seriously, no. I liked the blue hair on you when I tracked you down. I like it now. And this isn’t about me, remember? Except me reading you a little wrong.”
“Just a little.” For the first time in weeks, she found herself enjoying herself.
“You still haven’t told me anything about yourself, except by implication. Here, how about I start? Will that help?”
She knew his name and his dinner preferences, but she knew very little else about him, except that he had a temper and did not appear to be a rapist. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Okay. So.” He sat down on the chair and looked at her. “I was Kept my first year here. Almost everyone is, I think you notice. And they did it the sneaky way, tricked me into it. I’m not great at sneaky, and I decided, well, if we’re all going to play monsters, then we ought to own it.”
“You talked me into it.” His voice had been far more melodic then than it normally was.
“But did I lie to you?”
“Well, you did that singing thing…”
“You got me. But it’s not mind control, it’s not even really emotion control. It’s just sort of a smooth-the-way. Makes you less likely to stab me.”
“Hhnh. That’s only a good power if you’re going to wander around irritating people who want to stab you.” Of course, she wanted to stab him quite frequently, but he’d actually given her an order against that.
“Well, that’s possible. And I can, well, I can do more with it, if I concentrate.” He shrugged. “I just didn’t want to cheat quite that badly.”
“There’s rules to this?” That was the first she’d heard of it.
“Yeah. Outright threat is fine, sneaky is fine, offering protection against bigger monsters is fine. And, to be fair, if that asshole had gotten you, he probably would’ve been a far less fun Keeper than I am.”
Clarisse considered that, trying to be fair. “I don’t think I’d want to see what that ended up looking like.”
“Well, for one.” He touched her hair. “He would probably have wanted you to be who he wanted, instead of who he wanted.”
“But -” she frowned. Something about the way he said it made her wonder. “Could he? Could you?“
“That’s… well.” He put his hands on his lap and looked away for a moment. “Starting from the obvious. I can tell you what to wear. I could make you change your hair back. I have the Words for it; I could change your hair, grow it out long if I wanted, even change your skin color, although the teachers would probably get cranky about that. I can tell you what to say and what not to say. I can tell you who to talk to and who not to, when to talk, when to stay quiet. I can tell you what to think, but it’s a dangerous road and careful people don’t do that. Often.”
Clarisse spread her own hands on her lap and frowned at them. “That sounds awful,” she admitted. “But would it change who I was?”
“It didn’t change who I was, but it – well, it changes who people think you are. Sometimes that means the one follows the other, from what I’ve seen.”
“Hnn.” For a moment, she couldn’t look at him. “I don’t think I’d like that.” She hesitated. It didn’t change who I was. “Did you?”
“No. I hated a lot of it, except… well, sometimes she told me not to hate it, and when that was over, I hated that part even more.”
“She’s gone now. As things go, she wasn’t bad. She didn’t tell me what to think. She didn’t hurt me. But — she wanted a dress-up doll, so I was a dress-up doll.”
“What do you want?”
“That’s a very good question, isn’t it? I mean, I thought I was getting a loudmouth punk who wanted attention and liked mystery.”
“I like mysteries.” That wasn’t what he meant. “I like people not making assumptions about me. So you… you know, you don’t show much, it gives them less to make up perceptions on.”
“Except the blue hair.”
She sneaked a look at him. He was looking thoughtful. She wasn’t sure what she felt about him being thoughtful.
“Except the blue hair.” She fluffed it. “Got to give them something, or they’ll pester until they find something.”
“They?” He reached out, touched her chair, tugged her closer to him, until their knees were touching. She didn’t like him moving her chair — but, then again, she’d never told him that.
She shrugged. “You know. Other people in school. Teachers, staff. Everyone who looks at you and tried to put you in a box.”
“So you decided you’d give them a box to put you in, and then not give them — me, really — anything else to go on.” His brow furrowed and he touched her knee. It was a light touch, like he was trying to make sure she was there.
“When you put it that way…” When he put it that way, she felt guilty. She shoved the feeling down and snarled. “When you put it that way it ignores that everyone was already trying to put me in their own little box. All I did was give them something to pretend they were working with.”
“And me.” He nodded slowly, not seeming at all offended by her snarl. That was new. So much of this calm, thoughtful thing he was doing were new. “So… if I want to get to know you?”
“I—” she frowned. “I don’t know. I guess you could ask questions. I won’t lie, if you do.”
“Even if it’s uncomfortable?” His hand was still on her knee. It felt like it was burning a hole through her. It felt like he was holding her in his arms and cuddling her.
“Even if it’s uncomfortable.” She snorted at him. “Everything here is, you know.”
“A lot of it is. But — even magic?” He put his other hand on her other knee. The sensation was like fire and ice all at once.
She didn’t back up. She didn’t move his hands. “Magic is a pretty decent consolation prize,” she admitted. “But there’s still this stupid Change and the fact we’re in a dungeon and being a slave and…” She gestured broadly with both hands.
“Yeah.” He nodded with what looked like sympathy. “Yeah, there’s a lot of that. So… something about you.” He considered, as if he was about to ask something major, and then smirked. “What’s your favorite color?”
She smirked right back at him. “Purple.”
To his credit, he didn’t ask about the blue hair. “Mine’s grey.”
“You’re serious? Grey? How goth is that?”
“Well, a little goth, sure, but no, I really like grey.”
“I guess I oughta be glad you’re not dressing me all in grey, then.”
“I try not to do that,” he admits. “Maybe for the dances, but… well.”
“Yeah, well.” She looked down at her legs and sighed. This was notwhat she’d been expecting out of boarding school, magical or not.
He cleared his throat. “Right, so, now that we’ve broken the ice, on to the hard questions. What do you like to do?”
“Do? That’s pretty broad, isn’t it?”
“Well, I’m not going to ask what you want to be when you grow up.” He smiled crookedly at her. “I always hated that question. Now, when I go home, they say ‘what are you going to do with your life?’ instead.”
“Joy.” She cleared her throat. “Well… believe it or not, I liked roller derby. I had to sneak out of the house, of course, but it was awesome when I could…” Her voice caught and she looked away. “Damnit. I didn’t ask for this stupid school or this stupid Change or — or you.”
“Hey.” His voice as surprisingly gentle, and his hand on her shoulder was careful. “Hey, can I hug you?”
“You own me,” she pointed out bitterly. “That’s what you said.”
“Yeah, but I can still be polite, can’t I?”
“…sure. Yeah. You can hug me.”
She was expecting something awkward involving a grab of her shoulders. Instead, he scooped her up in his arms and put her on his lap, hugging her tight. “We’ll figure it out. I can’t get you out of here, I can’t make your Change go away, but we’ll… we’ll figure something out, okay?”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” She shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. She asked anyway.
“I guess.” He wrinkled his nose and sighed. “I guess I just needed to be reminded you were a person. Sorry about that.”
“It’s…” It really wasn’t okay, no matter what this place seemed to think was normal. “I forgive you.”
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