Directly after Rocks
She took his hand, because she needed to reassure herself that he really was fine. “I don’t-” she started, and fell quiet. There were too many ways to end that sentence and she didn’t like any of them.
He glanced over at her, and she recognized the expression, even if he looked nothing like Cabal, nothing like Gaheris. “I got it.” He was quiet for a minute, as she led him out of Leo’s house and down the quiet neighborhood street. “You don’ like, uh. Being emotive.”
She snorted, laughing at herself, at his phrasing, at the whole mess. “Let’s be honest,” she said, dryly and more openly than she usually was with her Kept. “I don’t like having emotions. But Leo – thinks that’s a mess, and Dr. Rexinger agrees, and if I’m going to be entirely honest, if one of my Kept told me they didn’t like having emotions, I’d spend the whole year helping them work through that. So I try to have emotions. But I don’t -”
“How long?” he asked, when she had found no words to finish that I don’t…
“Not feeling? Trying not to feel? Decades. A long time. Since after school.” Since after school. Since she learned that she couldn’t help Leo with Eriko, and that showing emotion around that crew, her Keeper’s crew, was an admission of weakness and an invitation to correction.
Cya didn’t like being wrong. She hadn’t liked being wrong, being corrected, as a teenager, a lifetime ago.
“That’s a long time,” he said, and for a child of twenty-three, that sentence in and of itself was a fair assessment. Then he looked up at her, looking worried. “That’s a really long time to be pretending you weren’t angry.”
She looked away. “When – when I let Leo know, sometimes it messed with him. When he was really crazy, it could send him away, either actually or just make the conversation get lost. So I stopped, well, I stopped feeling it, so I didn’t send him off into the deep end.”
“But he’s been sane for a while, didn’t you say?” He sounded a little uncertain, like he didn’t want to push and yet thought he ought to. She couldn’t blame him for that one.
“He’s been better for quite a while. But then, well. I had to get better.” She laughed, although it had no humor. “Habits, I’m all about habits. I get messed up when those get shaken, you know?”
“I-” He didn’t sound like he knew. She couldn’t fault him for that, either.
“…I stopped feeling it, and then I forgot I could again, and by that time, I’d stopped feeling things as much as I could.”
“But now you’re learning how to feel again?” he guessed.
“Yeah.” She looked over at him. In the dim light of the streetlights, his face looked like it could be anyone’s. That made this all the weirder, like she was talking to generations of her Kept. No, she reminded herself firmly, just one. Carew. We’re here, today, and that’s it. “Now,” she tried the words on for size, “I’m letting myself feel. And it’s-”
“Weird,” he offered. “Like learning a skill. Did you tell me,” he offered, “something about learning a new skill every decade? And all the messed-up pots and twisted ankles and bad phrases in Russian nobody ever sees?”
“…I did.” Every once in a while, one of her Kept actually paid attention. “Yeah.”
“So,” he offered, “this is a skill, right? Like, uh. Like teaching Jeska how to exist around humans, and how to have leisure time? Something that’s gonna come with some trial-and-error?”
“..Yeah.” She nodded slowly. It stood to reason that the Kept who’d befriended a former Nedetaka might know about learning skills most people took for granted.”Yeah, I guess it is a skill. But, k- Puppy, Carew, when I mess up throwing a pot it doesn’t send you fleeing to Leo’s.”
“Well,” he offered, with a crooked smile that looked too much like one she sometimes glimpsed in the mirror, “if I thought Leo – sa – Lightning – you know – if I thought he’d come talk you down from messing up pots, I might.”
She hugged him, because he was a clever boy, and she was going to miss him when his year was up. “Thanks, puppy,” she whispered. They both ignored the way his tail wagged happily at that.
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