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Paint Me Blue, a continuation for Finish It Bingo

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?”

“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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Shifting, a continuation (finish-ation) of Addergoole yr17

After Shades, for my Third Finish It Bingo Card. Addergoole Year 17.

“Why don’t you ever get angry?”

It had been three days since Abrelle’s hair had started tinging blue, three days where both she and Kevin had tried to pretend that nothing had changed, three days where she desperately wished that his Change involved changing colors, or that she had any skill with Hugr, emotions. She knew what she was feeling. He knew what she was feeling; he could read it in her hair. But he hadn’t given her any clue what he was feeling, and that was driving her a little bonkers (which, it appeared, was a weird shade of chartreuse, in small stripes).

He’d picked another fight, and she was in the process of buckling him up in a series of straps, mummifying him with leather. She’d done it so many times already (and it was only November!) that she hardly had to think about it: grab collar, hook the apparatus into position, grab arms, start buckling. She hadn’t even been focusing on him; she was still halfway in the book she’d been reading for VanderLinden’s Lit class.

She blinked at him, finished the next strap, and considered the the question. “Thinking,” she told him, so he didn’t think she was ignoring him. She moved down him, smoothing his fingers against his sides with a gentle petting motion before buckling the strap around his upper thighs.

He usually took until she got to his knees to settle down, but this time he was calm already. “Take your time.”

“My Keeper,” she said slowly, as she buckled the strap above his knees… “Sit down, here, that’s good, thank you. My Keeper, he liked to bait me. And then he would tell me things like ‘no, a good ladylike Kept doesn’t lose her temper.'”

“Didn’t know you very well, did he?” He pressed his ankles together while she got the last strap buckled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She swung his legs up onto the bed and straightened him out, making sure everything was laying smoothly.

“I mean…” He wriggled against the straps, now that they were all in place. “You’re not exactly ladylike. That sounds like someone who drinks tea with their pinkie up and doesn’t want to break a nail. I’ve seen you in combat training. If you really wanted to, you wouldn’t need orders to hold me still. Or straps.” He wriggled a little more. “But, I mean, he’s gone. And you still don’t get mad, no matter what I do.”

“That’s… not exactly right.”

“Your hair doesn’t ever change, well, it does now, but still, you don’t ever really express anything, you just take it all and then you tie me up and… I calm down and you don’t do anything.” He paused. “Wait. Wait, are you saying you are mad at me? Shit, shit-shit, shit!” He started pulling more intently against the restraints, actually trying to get out.

He couldn’t. But Abrelle sat down and pulled him until his head was on her lap anyway. She stroked his hair and petted him until he stopped swearing.

He looked up at her, frowning, lip-bitten. “I don’t know what to think. If you’re mad and you don’t show it, how am I supposed to know anything you’re thinking. How’m I supposed to know if I do something wrong?”

Rather than answering the difficult question, Abrelle raised her eyebrows at him and smirked. “I think I’ve been pretty clear when you do something wrong.”

“Well, yeah, but if you showed anything, then I’d know before I hit the “go sit in the corner and be quiet” spot. Or, you know, know if you were angry instead of just wondering if you thought something was a bad habit you ought to nip in the bud.”

“Is there a – no, you’re right, of course there’s a difference.” She’d been Kept, after all.

“Yeah. See? So… why don’t you get angry? I mean, why don’t you show anything? Your hair doesn’t even flicker.”

“I…” Abrelle stroked his hair for a little while. “You cannot tell anyone. You cannot even hint at it, you can’t whisper about it, I’d rather you didn’t think about it much while you were out in classes but I won’t make that an order unless you want me to.” Thought orders had messed her up more than anything her Keeper had done to her; she tried very hard not to do those to Kevin. “Okay?”

He stilled and looked up at her, forehead furrowed. “It’s serious. And you don’t want – what, no, not other students. The staff to know.” He chewed on his lip. “Is it okay? Is it hurting you? If you’re in pain somehow or damaging yourself, you can’t tell me not to tell the staff, that’s horrid.”

She pet his hair soothingly. He had the softest hair. He’d changed shampoos a week into being Kept, when it’d started to be clear how much time she’d spend running her hands through his hair. She definitely liked the feel of the new stuff better, and was very pleased that he’d made the change, presumably for her.

She took a minute to find her words. “It’s not something that’s damaging me. It’s not hurting me. But it might cause problems with some of the staff, and I don’t want… I’m not ready to deal with that.”

He looked thoughtful. “How about… you tell me, and if I think it’s something to worry about, then you come up with a time when you’re ready to deal with it and the staff-problems?” He wriggled cutely in her lap and gave her a wide-eyed and innocent expression. “I want to know, I really do. But I don’t want to be stuck not being able to help you.”

“I’m surprised you care.”

“I Belong to you,” he pointed out. “That comes with a bit of caring.”

“Oh.” She thought she might be disappointed. She wasn’t sure what that said.

“Hey. Hey.” He wriggled in her lap until she looked at him. “Hey, your hair’s doing a thing. Come on, I was teasing, or, you know, not being entirely honest. I, uh. We butt heads, but I like you, okay? I mean… really like you.”

“Like you said, you Belong to me.”

“No, no. I mean, yes. Yours. But come on.” He squirmed demonstratively. “You get me. And, uh. I like it when we just sit around and talk and stuff. And there’s stuff. I like that, too.”

She wanted to say you’re not making any sense but he was. And he was smiling. Oh, her hair must be doing something.

“I’m pretty sure that’s a good color. So… you like me and I like you and if that involves a lot of bondage, well, I’m actually not complaining about that… .but you’re going to tell me your secret now?” He gave her the hopeful wide-eyed look again.

She sighed. “Okay. I need one of my arms back, though.” She slid her left arm out from under him and fished out the necklace living down in her cleavage. “So. My Keeper. He didn’t like displays of emotion, didn’t really like emotion, especially not negative emotions. And I was… very emotional. I was very unhappy in the collar and I really didn’t like him. I still don’t like him.”

“Urgh.” He wrinkled his nose. “Sounds like an asshole.”

Abrelle snorted. “YOu’ll get no argument from me on that point. Except maybe that you’re not using a strong enough word. ANyway… he didn’t like emotions, and, well. You might have noticed the Keeping makes emotions, and… being ‘human’ makes emotions, and being pregnant….” she sighed and waited for him to stop the whole-body nose-wrinkle sort of disgust expression he always made when kids came up. “THat makes emotions, too. And being in trouble for having emotions…”

“Just makes things worse. Is he still here?”

“No. No, he graduated last year. Besides,” she tapped his nose gently, “he’s not your revenge, dear. He’s mine. So… I had, have, a friend who is very good with magical items, and I had her made something — because I wasn’t allowed to do WOrkings, and, even if I was, I’m awful at the Emotions word — something to shift my emotions. Not destroy them, just take the emotions and offe them as a shift to vision, a color, like my hair. THen I could decide if I wanted to feel them or not.”

“Hunh.” He considered. “So… the blue?”

“Well, at first it was supposed to be just negative emotions. But what we did was slide the thing in my bra for a week and have it read everything I was feeling, and then extrapolate from there what it should block and what colors it should show. Love… I wasn’t feeling any love at the time, let’s say that. ” She stroked his hair, waiting for the horror or disgust or confusion.

You are feeling worried, suggested the greenish-blue haze over her vision. Suppress? Allow?

Allow she decided. The trinket would probably not last much longer anyway. She was going to have to get used to her emotions before they all came flooding back.

“Your hair’s a funny… a couple funny colors.” He twitched in his bonds. “So… your friend made you a magical item that, uh, it shuts off your emotions? You get to decide what you’re going to feel and what you’re not?”

“I did.”

“Do you, um. Do you want me to be like that?”

She didn’t need his hair to turn colors to tell her he was worried, too. “Do I look like a giant asshole?” she asked, possibly more sharply than she’d intended. Having the emotions back did strange things to her speaking.

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “No. No, ma’am. It’s just… uh. You haven’t been Kept in ages, years, right?”

“Since my first year,” she agreed.

“And you’re still wearing it. I mean, it looks like you’re starting to let stuff through? But if you’re still wearing it, when you obviously don’t have to care what your Keeper thinks anymore…” He looked away and struggled at the straps a little bit. “I just thought,” he muttered to her knee, “maybe you preferred things that way? Quiet? Calm.”

She stroked his hair and considered his words. “I like you the way you are. I like… well.” She ducked her head and found herself smiling, “the excuse to tie you up.”

“But you’re…” He was flushed but a smile was creeping in at his lips, “you’re still wearing it? So you like me, uh, excitable?”

“I like you the way you are,” she repeated. “And I really do like this.” She tugged on the strap around his arms.

His flush darkened and he looked away. “I like it too,” he muttered, “but I’d like it better if, uh. If you responded.”

“If I respond,” Abrelle picked her way through the words carefully, “it’s going to get loud. And I might say things I don’t mean.”

“I say things I don’t mean all the time! And sometimes I say things I do mean but wouldn’t say if I wasn’t shouting.”

“I know.” She stroked his hair. She could tell from the way he was struggling that tying him up wasn’t going to do it this time, or, at least, it wasn’t going to be enough on its own. “I’m just warning you. It’s going to get pretty shouty in here.”

“Well, then, so I won’t be alone shouting.” He hesitated. “And, uh. So I’ll know I got a reaction, maybe I won’t have to shout quite so much, too.”

“Hrrm.” She smiled crookedly at him and caught his hand, squeezing his fingers. “But I’m still going to tie you up, you know.”

“Well, yeah. I mean. That part’s fun, although…”

“Although?”

“I mean,” He shrugged jerkily against the straps. “You’ve got me all tied up, but, I mean, I…” He shook his head.

“Tell me,” Abrell ordered. Her vision suggested guilt, and she tolt it she didn’t want to bother with that right now. She could indulge in guilt later, when she’d figured out if something was going wrong with her Kept.

“Urgh,” he complained, and then, quickly, ‘I just wondered why you kept my clothes on all the time? I mean,” he spoke a little more slowly, the pressure of the order clearly off, “you get me all tied up, you could do anything you wanted to me. I Belong to you, you can do anything you want to me. And it’s not like you’re afraid I’m not gonna say if I don’t like something.”

Abrelle shut her mouth. That had been almost exactly what she’d been going to say.

He could tell, too. “Look, you’re not… your Keeper, and I trust you.” He twitched at the straps. “When I ask you — like, okay, the once I asked you to untie me, you, well, you untied me. I trust you,” he repeated. “I wish, you know, I could tell when you were angry, ‘cause then the bond gets all loud in my head making up options, but, uh, really, I wish if you were gonna tie me up so much, maybe you would do something with me once you’d gotten me tied up?” He wriggled in what Abrelle thought was supposed to be an enticing manner but mostly looked adorable.

Abrelle let the affectionate amusement wash through her and chuckled at him. “All right. But I’m going to warn you…”

“It’s going to be wild?” He smirked playfully. “You warned me about that already. Shouting, oh no. However will I survive?”

She rolled him onto his side so that he was off of her lap, catching him before he could roll too far away, and leaned down, very deliberately, and bit his earlobe. “My temper isn’t the only thing that’s gotten repressed over the last couple years,” she murmured into his ear, “and it’s not just going to be shouting that’s going to get wild.”

His cheeks turned pink — and his thin pants did nothing to hide the other signs of his sudden interest. “Oh no,” he repeated, but his voice was shaky and almost eager. “Wild, oh, no. However will I survive?”

Abrelle caught sight of her hair, which was turning deep blue and purple in vivid stripes. She slid the emotion-catcher out of her bra and left it on the nightstand timer. “Let’s find out, hrrm?”

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After the Night

After A Couple Helping Hands, Littermate, and Strange Favors, for the Finish It! bingo

Begley was out of the doctor’s office in an hour, an hour Cúmhaí had spent pacing the waiting room and irritating all of the other nervous or unhappy people who’d filled and over-filled the room. Some she recognized as other new students, others were upperclassmen. One of those, Brontes, leered cheerfully at Cúmhaí and reached out for her, only to find his hand slapped down by an invisible force.

“He’s got ideas,” she faux-apologized. “Whoever he is.”

“That’s all right. If all he has is ideas, I’m sure I could come up with something more interesting.”

“That’s definitely a possibility. But, on the other hand, you’re here because of someone, aren’t you? And it’s probably not your little brother…”

“You’re here because of your brother? On Hell Night?” Brontes’ brow wrinkled. “Seriously? I mean, You’re pretty cute, nobody—”
An invisible clearing throat caught Brontes’ attention. “Oh, you did? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I did not. But the young lady here — young woman,” the voice corrected, at an angry glare from Cúmhaí — fought very well, and her brother did as well.”

Cúmhaí’s glare — which was pointed at the sound of the voice, so it did not matter that she could feel the space he took up in the room — lessened only faintly at the praise. “I’m glad you approve.”

“You really were impressive. After four years here, I’ll be interested to see — from a distance, preferably — what you can do.” The voice chuckled. “But I’ll be going now, before Brontes’ slow brains finally figure out who I am, and he gives away the game. Miss Cúmhaí, I assume I will be seeing you, if not the other way around.”

“It’s a small school.” It might not have been the most encouraging reply, but she wasn’t all that sure that she wanted to encourage this guy.

She watched his shape leave the room and gave Brontes a thin smile. “I should go check on my brother. I hope whoever you’ve got here, you’re good to them.” She found her voice growling a bit at the end, but hey, if he’d been chasing people down like she’d been being chased, he deserved it. “They deserve it, if you landed them here.”

Brontes had nothing to say to that, and she had nothing more to say to him.


He might have been the only one with nothing to say to her in the next few days. The first thing she got was angry accusations — why had Begely rescued her, what was her relationship to him, why wasn’t she wearing his collar?

Cúmhaí’s patience was wearing thin. She had barely managed not to punch the last guy who’d asked her about a collar, and she had shown her teeth to several. It seemed to be making them back off, but the questions kept sneaking in, in between classes, during class, in the lunch room. Over half of her Cohort was wearing collars, maybe a quarter of them had a spooked look, some had bruises. And people wanted to ask her what she’d done?

Worse still, they were getting in her way. She could feel all the people filling up space, but when they got too close together, they became one amorphous space-blob. It was like the closer people’s faces got together, the more they faded, until they were one unidentifiable mess.

Her new power, Cúmhaí thought, might not have been the prettiest thing.

“So, what is it with you and this Begely kid?” another unfortunate soul asked. “I hear he helped to rescue you, and you him, on Hell Night?”

Cúmhaí turned to answer with a snarl already twisting her lips. “He’s my brother… oh.”

The man asking was tall, handsome in a slightly-creepy way, with pale skin and black hair, and too well-dressed for a school. He was raising one eyebrow inquisitively at her. “Oh?”

Cúmhaí grinned. She’d checked out the expression in a mirror, and with her new Change, it was pleasantly terrifying. “You know, if you’re trying to be all sneaky and hidden, it helps if you don’t sound like the husband in some gothic novel or something. I mean, nobody else here sounds quite that full of themselves.”

“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He looked, she thought, offended.

She smiled even wider. “So, I’m not sure if I should thank you for the help or yell at you for hurting my brother. ‘Cause I wouldn’t have needed help if you hadn’t attacked me and thrown him across the room — but, on the other hand, everyone was attacking everyone.”

“I heard that you were quite impressive Saturday morning. I — nobody expected you to hold out that long, or to fight that hard. Or to be able to fight an invisible opponent.”

Cúmhaí found herself grinning. He thought she was impressive, did she? She let the teeth show and turned the grin into something more like a snarl. “Something everyone here should know about my family — since we’re talking about rumors and stuff people ‘just heard’ here — we don’t give up and we watch our own. Begely might be a pain in the ass, but he’s my brother, and we watch after each other, no matter what.”

“I am certain everyone will be keeping that in mind,” he answered solemnly. “Especially after his defense of you, especially after the way you reacted when he was attacked in turn.”

Cúmhaí eyed him cautiously. “I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me,” she admitted.

He smirked. “I am not. Generally, that is accompanied by some sort of snicker or chortle.”

“…do you always sound like this? I mean, come on, it’s a school, you’re a student. Unless you’re secretly a professor in disguise? That would explain a lot.”

“What would it explain?” He raised his eyebrows in such a perfect fashion it had to be magic.

“Well, the fact that everyone else was trying to cause damage or put a collar around someone’s neck and you, well, didn’t — you helped us out. Or the way you talk. Or the fact that you’re pretending it’s not you, when I can… smell that it’s you.”
“Smell?” His nostrils flared. “That’s certainly a useful set of Changes you’ve gotten there.”

“Yeah, yeah, dogbird. Call me a puppy and I’ll make sure you need a rabies shot.”

“You know what happens to dogs who bite humans, don’t you?”

“You were much more charming before you started in on the threatening.” Cúmhaí showed her teeth. “Now you’re just like everyone else here.”

“I hate to sound juvenile, but… you did start it.” He didn’t look like he hated it. He looked amused by the whole thing.

“I’m the one with an animal Change. What’s your excuse?”

“My excuse? I have none. I was simply trying to gossip with you about your luck on Hell Night.” His smile looked slightly wrong, too sharp or too big or too thin or maybe all three.

“We both know it wasn’t luck. It was Begely, anger, and you.” It grated on her to credit him, yet, at the same time, he had helped more than a little.

“You keep insisting I was there.”

Cúmhaí growled as she stepped up into his face and grabbed the collar of his shirt with both hands. He was taller than her by almost a whole head, but when she pulled him towards her, it leveled the playing field a bit. “I keep insisting,” she snarled, “because I know it was you. The question is why you keep pretending you weren’t there.”

“Ah.” He looked down at her, eyebrows quirking, and coughed. “Maybe I wanted you to have to work a little harder to find your rescuer. Perhaps I wanted a chance to observe you when you weren’t under stress. It is possible I just like being mysterious.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “And it wasn’t because you were trying to figure out how to get a collar on me without having to permanently incapacitate Begely?”

“Miss Cúmhaí, I am fairly certain that, if I wanted to collar you, incapacitating your brother would only then mean that I would have to incapacitate you as well. No, I — can we speak somewhere more private?”

“About you collaring me? I don’t think so.”

“No.” He cleared his throat and shrugged his shoulders forward. “I was thinking more about talking about not collaring you,” he whispered. “But that’s a conversation that will anger people more than, say, your good relationship with your brother or the way you managed to survive Hell Night free and intact.”

“You seem like the sort of person that can take care of yourself. And I…”

He quirked an eyebrow, seeming to guess what she hadn’t said, and why. “You did, once. With support. Can you handle yourself against a whole crew of upperclassmen intent on putting you and your brother in your places?”

“Can you?” she countered.

“Ah, well, that is the question, isn’t it? And a quite important one for both of us.” He nodded and gestured down the hall. “Shall we talk?”

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The Uncle’s… Pet? – a story continuation for “Finish It” Bingo.

After Uncle, a story of fae apoc. To the Finish It! Bingo.

They’d named the creature — the fae, the sentient being Bruce was now Keeping — they’d named the thing Bjorn, or, at least, Bruce’s niece Kikyo had offered the name and it had stuck.

Bruce couldn’t get another name out of the thing, but, then, he hadn’t been able to get much at all in the way of language out of — out of him, out of Bjorn.

That made it harder to remember that the creature, that this Kept Bruce had now, that it was sentient, human-ancestried just as Bruce and his kids were. The fur everywhere didn’t help, either.

Bruce counted children three times, and then got them lined up in front of — in front of Bjorn. “All right. These children here…” He rattled off their names one by one. “You are not to hurt them. You may stop them from hurting you, but as gently as possible. Do you understand?”

Bjorn nodded. It cleared its throat once, twice. “Not hurt,” he offered.

“Good. Bobby, start filling a tub. Not for you,” he added before the children could start whining. “But I don’t think Bjorn should wait until our Saturday baths.”

Bjorn twisted its face into something that looked like a grimace. “Bath…” it started.

Bruce cut it — him, he was fairly sure the thing was a he — off, perhaps too brusquely. “If you live under my roof and my name, you bathe at least weekly. More if you end up stinky from something. And we start today, because I don’t want fleas in my house.”

Bjorn wrinkled its nose but did not complain. “Good boy,” Bruce muttered. What was he supposed to do with a semi-sentient housepet?

“Kikyo, Dolores,” he called. “You wanted to bring him in. You’re going to help get him clean. Kiya, go get a comb. Dol, get the scissors.”

The thing flinched away at the word scissors. Bruce waited until the children had run off on their errands before he patted Bjorn lightly. “To trim your hair — fur — whatever,” he explained quietly. “It doesn’t hurt if I cut it, does it?”

Bjorn stared at him, clearly trying to follow the words. “Fur.” It tugged on the hair on top of its head. “Fur doesn’t hurt.”

“Good, see? So. You understand children? They’re children, Bjorn, so be very careful what you let them know. They’re safe here, and their mothers trusted me with them. Don’t… I don’t want you to betray that trust.”

Bjorn was watching his face intently. SLowly, he nodded. “Children,” he agreed softly. He seemed to be remembering words as he went. “I… I’ll? I… will… be careful.”

“Good. That’s the right comb, Kiya, good. Bjorn, she’s going to comb you, all right? I’m going to go check on the tub.”

Bruce felt like every sense was on high alert, listening, even sniffing for trouble as he left his nieces alone with the creature.

The tub was filled, room left for Bjorn to slide in, and Bobby had added a couple drops of oil. “Is he… Is he a person?” he asked softly.

“That’s what we’ve got to find out,” Bruce sighed. “Come on, Bjorn, clothes off, get in the tub.”

Cleaned, his hair trimmed and away from his face, and dressed in a pair of Bruce’s cast-off pants, Bjorn looked — not human; he had a tail and his pointed ears were tufted — sentient and aware. He was gentle with the children, and protective, like a sheepdog, enough so that after a few days Bruce was comfortable leaving him alone with even the younger girls. But he had to be taught even the most basic table manners — the kids found it hilarious — and preferred grunts and gestures to words.

Bruce tried for patience, but when he caught Ryuu and Cherry communicating in grunt-and-gesture while they were supposed to be learning math, his temper had reached its limit. He held it in — he didn’t yell at the kids unless they were in danger, by long-established precedent and a lot of practice — but when Bjorn answered a basic question with a shrug and a whine some hours later—

“You,” Bruce said, his voice carefully quiet, “were born human, same as the rest of us. You are a person, not an animal. Talk like a person.”

Something lit up in Bjorn’s eyes that had not been there before. He ducked his head, and for a moment Bruce thought he was going to have to deal with a whimpering, miserable Kept. Then Bjorn turned the head-duck into a bow, deep and very precises.

“I Belong to you,” Bjorn said carefully, as if picking the words out of his memory. “You wish me to be a person?”

Bruce rejected the formula. “You are a person.”

Something that could have been relief came over Bjorn’s face. “Then I will be a person again.”

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Putting Down the Burden, a story for the Dungeon-and-Cave #promptcall

“It’s the stereotype, right?” He shed his jacket and ran a hand through his hair, tousling it. The woman smiled encouragingly and let him talk. “Powerful guy, has it all.” His shirt joined his jacket; his fingers and his speech slowed. The woman didn’t mind – he was sculpted under the shirt, sleek, and clearly a bit nervous. “But he doesn’t have any place to put ‘it all’ down. He doesn’t have any place to not be in charge.” His fingers lingered on the button to his pants.

The woman counted silently to three, waiting for the moment when he looked at her, when he looked for an answer. One, two… there. She stepped forward, gently moving his hand away from his waistband so that she could take over. “Yeah, it’s the stereotype. And that’s for a reason.” She unbuttoned him, unzipped his fly, and with the same slender fingers pushed his pants down to his ankles. “But every theme has variations. Mmm, every song has a bridge.”

“Every rose has its thorn?” he teased.

“And every night has its dawn.” From her knees at her feet, she smiled up at him. “And sometimes, a powerful man needs to let go. Yes?”

He let out a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a plea. “Yeah. Yeah… yes.”

“Then… let go. I’ll be here to catch you, and I’ll be here to put you back on your feet.”

As the fireman sank slowly to his knees, the woman reached out, both hands, to hold his shoulders. Sometimes, they needed her to put out flames.


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Written to wispfox‘s prompt.

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Family Secrets and Cat Secrets, continuation of the Aunt Family for the Giraffe Call

This is wispfox‘s commissioned continuation of Cats & Grannies. and Cat’s in the Attic.

Radar appeared to approve of the center box of the nine – although, perhaps out of consideration to Aunt Bea, he wasn’t talking. Beryl, armed with the gloves the cat had suggested and a scarf tied over her nose and mouth, moved everything with the care usually taken by museum archivists.

(She wondered, very briefly, what a historian or archaeologist would make of the family archives, such as they were. Had anyone in the family ever studied archeology?)

“Aunt Bea…” Her voice was muffled by the scarf, but Aunt Bea’s hearing was still sharp. “Do we have any historians in the family?”

“Oh, the family doesn’t tend to go that way.”

“Aah.” Beryl noted the tone, and wondered what Aunt or pushy Granny had inculcated that idea into the family. “I think it might be fun to do a study of all this, that’s all.”

“Well, but who could you show it to?”

“Aunt-” She hefted the box out of its spot and set it, carefully, on a clear patch of attic floor “-Evangeline. Or maybe one of the cadet branches – hey, how come they’re the cad… never mind. Thanks for letting me take this, Aunt Bea.” That was Dangerous Territory. People Beryl’s age weren’t supposed to worry about Dangerous Territory.

“Don’t worry too much about the politics, honey. It’ll sort itself out, it always does. And be careful with what’s in those boxes – I mean, tell Eva to be careful.” Was that a wink, or just a trick of the light?

~

Beryl had earned the privilege of a locked door with her fourteenth birthday, and was very grateful for it as she and Radar sat down with the box. Not that she thought her mother would exactly object, but her mother would talk to her sisters, and her cousins, and they’d talk to their mothers, and their aunts, and so on, and soon Beryl would find herself buried in Grannies again.

She turned up the music nobody else in the house liked – just loud enough to be audible if one stopped to listen, not loud enough to get her yelled at by anyone else – triple-checked the lock, and made sure The Necklace was wrapped in silk and locked in a stone box. “All right, Radar.” She popped the lid and stared inside. “What am I looking for?”

“It’s going to be a journal.” Radar jumped into the box, growing smaller as he did in a show of power he almost never exhibited. The kitten-size fit much better among the paperwork. “If I recall, it was bound in leather – brown and green – and wrapped in ribbon.”

“There’s so much stuff here.” She lifted out a folder labelled Family Photographs, 1910. The handwriting was a long, spidery script she’d seen more than a few times before. “And what’s dangerous about photos?”

“In your family? Everything.” The cat pushed aside a yellowed book of sheet music; Beryl had never heard of the composer, but she could smell the magic still coming off of it like dust. “Here it is. Careful, girl, it’s old.”

Old didn’t begin to cover it. Beryl stared at the cover of the book, with its flaking gold-embossed name. “Is that…”

It had to be. The family, for reasons of clarity, did not repeat names. But she had to ask again, anyway. “Is that…”

“The secrets have been lost for a long time indeed, child. Take it.” Radar pushed the book towards her. “You’re going to need it.”

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Goatback or Not

After With the Goats

Liegya hadn’t meant to be a census-taker.

She’d meant to be a show-rider, a fancy-goat-dancer, a parade-trick-acrobat.

And she was good at it, good with the goats, good with the acrobats, good with the showmanship.

She still was. But parental push had been harder than she’d expected, she’d gotten very good marks in counting and accounting in school, and the position in the census bureau had come with a very nice salary and a house she only saw once a year.

And it came with her pick of goats, and being with the goats 9/10 of the time, even if she’d rather be counting other people’s goats than the people themselves.

When the villagers told her about “oh, Lazhman, probably out with the goats…” She had to go look. At the goats, of course.

And maybe at another soul who’d rather be with the four-legged than two.


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With the Goats

To wispfox‘s prompt

Morning came, and Lazhman slipped out of the house and into the herd. When he could, he slept among the goats, too, but the census-counter was in town, and everyone had been pressuring him, act normal, Lazhman. Act like a person and not a goat.

Lazhman had no interest in such things, but he did sometimes like bread and stew and, to be fair, didn’t have the stomach the goats did. So he spent most his time among the herd, let his beard grow like a goat’s and his hair as well, twisted two braids to look something like goat-horns when nobody was looking, and spent just enough time in town to convince people to keep selling him bread and stew.

He’d done that, last night. Now he could sit out on the hill near Copper and Counter and the other goat, watch the clouds and the river move by, and have no cares except the wildcats and the occasional bandit.

“Hello there.”

What? Words? Lazhman snorted and looked around.

“Hello.” She’d snuck up behind him, how had she done that? “I’m Liegya.” The census-taker, that’s who she was. “I’d like to talk to you.”


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