In Which Permission Is Asked


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“Would it bother you if I suck completely and don’t walk you home?” Grace said to Nicki after we’d finished eating. “I really probably should have gone straight back to Glory when I found out what day it was… or even before that. I don’t know how much worse things can get, by I don’t want to push it any further… I’m already going to be in so much trouble.”

“Even though your sister’s going to be happy for you?” Nicki asked.

“She still has to keep discipline in the ranks,” Grace said. “The others will want to punish me if she doesn’t. So, if you don’t see me for a few days, It’s not because I don’t want to, but I might not be allowed to go off on my own for a while. Oh! And I just remembered… I’d love to meet the rest of your friends, but if you don’t think anyone would be insulted or anything I’d rather if I can just hang out with you two from the start. Nothing against them! I just… I didn’t expect to be up close with either one of you this quickly, and it’s kind of a lot.”

“Yeah, they can be intimidating,” Nicki said.

“We’re really not,” I said, though not with much confidence… I found most people intimidating at first just on principle. “But I don’t think anyone will mind.”

“That’s great,” Grace said. She looked at Nicki. “Do you think you’ll be okay walking back without me?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Nicki gets back to her room safely,” I said, still high on the thrill of being helpful.

“You? Seriously?” Grace said. “I guess a few more minutes won’t make a difference… it’s not like anyone’s going to be expecting me back at an exact particular time, anyway.”

In the interest of keeping the peace with Nicki’s new girlfriend, I didn’t bother to protest… also, while I was getting better at defending myself, it might not have been a comment on my abilities so much as my luck.

“You should walk back with us, though,” Nicki said. “If you don’t mind going out of your way.”

“Sure,” I said, thinking that my presence might be enough to stop a goodnight kiss from turning into “goodbye, Tuesday!”… and also, I’d come originally come over to try to enlist Nicki’s services for Amaranth’s adventure game, and what with one thing and another I hadn’t even brought it up.

There wasn’t a lot of conversation on the way back, though more than once Grace observed that we walked really slowly and that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed it before. It was verging on annoying, but as slow as our crude mortal legs may have been, they still got us back to the dorm before it became unbearably so.

“Wait… should we go in?” Grace said when we got to Nicki’s room.

“Maybe it’s best if you just say goodnight out here,” I said to

“You’re not wrong,” she said. “But it seems… anticlimactic? I mean, even another climax would be anticlimactic after that, but it seems like there should be something more than words, don’t you think?”

“…a goodnight kiss is kind of traditional,” Nicki said, blushing and ducking her head. “My lady.”

“Right, but we don’t really have time to get into that kind of stuff,” Grace said.

“A kiss doesn’t have to lead anywhere,” Nicki said. “I mean… not immediately.”

“Why would it have to lead anywhere else…? Oh, wait, when you say ‘kiss’, you don’t mean… you and me, kissing each other on the mouths?” Grace said.

“…do elves not do that?” Nicki asked.

“Grown-ups do, sometimes,” she said. “But I think that’s because as you get older, your definition of an equal gets a little more… generous. I know some boys do it, but they’re more… aggressive about it then I think I could manage.”

“Oh,” Nicki said. “We’re not equals… right.”

“Don’t get me wrong!” Grace said. “As humans go, you’re… you’re just awesome. You are the best human. And I am the worst elf. If we were on the same scale, you’d be… you’d be loads better than me.”

“Hold on,” I said. “You are not better than Nicki.”

“Not, like, personally,” Grace said. “It’s just… station? And I’m not saying no, I just… I’ve never thought about it. It’s not something that would have occurred to me. It’s… outside my comfort zone?”

“I could kiss the back of your hand?” Nicki suggested.

“Why… what’s wrong with my hand?” Grace said, looking at it in alarm.

“Nothing’s wrong with your hand,” Nicki said. “It’s perfect.”

“Then how is that better than my lips?” Grace said. “I know, you could kiss the sole of my boot!”

“You know, my lips have actually made contact with your skin in multiple locations,” Nicki said. “And none of them were less perfect than your hands or lips.”

“Yes, but that was… service,” she said.

“You went down on me, too,” Nicki said.

“Because I love pussy?” she said. “And yours was in front of me and it was mine to use, so I entertained myself with it. But this is affection. It’s… more intimate, and more complicated.”

“So, I’m good enough to have sex with for three days, but not good enough to kiss the back of your hand?” Nicki asked.

“Yes! Wow, you put that so succinctly. I guess it’s not that complicated after all,” Grace said. “Wait… why did it sound like a bad thing when you said it?”

“I think you had probably better go, Grace,” I said.

“I can decide that for myself,” Nicki said. “We aren’t done with this.”

“Why am I not the one deciding when I go?” Grace asked. “I am completely lost. Did I do something wrong, and if so, what?”

“Grace… you’re talking about me like I’m less than shit,” Nicki said.

“Not shit in general,” Grace said. “Mine, maybe. But you’re… so much better than shit, I don’t know why it’s even a comparison. Like, I can’t even imagine a situation where I’d be choosing between you and shit, much less one where it would be a close competition.”

“Except when it comes to kissing one of us,” Nicki said. “Then it seems to be a tie.”

“I didn’t say that!” Grace said. “I just said it’s not something I’d have thought of doing and I don’t know how I feel about it. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“Well, while you’re figuring it out, I can’t get down and kiss the bottom of your boot in public,” Nicki said.

“Okay,” Grace said. “Compromise?”

“Compromise is good,” Nicki said. “What do you have in mind?”

“You can kiss my hand,” Grace said. “As long as you ask first each time, and say thank you, and call me your lady.”

I was biting my tongue like crazy, because however they threshed out their respective places in their growing relationship, it wasn’t my place to interrupt their negotiation. If I heard or saw somethingdangerous, I’d speak up, but mere cultural chauvinism didn’t require an intervention.

I wasn’t crazy about the way Grace had been talking about Nicki, but I knew that while she wasn’t one hundred percent in sync with the elven middling sensibilities about these things, she had still internalized a lot of it.

“…I guess that works for me,” Nicki said. “I mean, it’s not what I was expecting but… it could be fun?”

Grace held out her hand.

“May I kiss your hand, my lady?” Nicki said.

“Oh my fuck, you are good at that!” Grace said, withdrawing her hand as she threw both of them up in the air in excitement. “Okay, okay, okay, sorry, I screwed that up. You just made me twitch in fun places when you said that. I didn’t realize affection could be… fun.”

“What did you think it was, work?” Nicki asked.

“Pretty much?” Grace said. “It’s… relationship stuff. And relationships take work, right?”

“Well, yeah, but… people kiss each other for fun,” Nicki said. “Because it’s nice. I mean, because it feels nice, not just because it’s the nice thing to do.”

“See, I always thought it was like… fealty,” Grace said. “Discharging obligation.”

“Does this mean we can try on the lips?”

“…maybe we can work on that in private,” she said. “For now, let’s try the hand thing again.”

“Okay,” Nicki said.

Grace put her hand out again, and this time Nicki took it with both of hers and bent her head down over it, turning her eyes up towards Grace.

“Still ask!” Grace said.

“I was going to, you goof!” Nicki said.

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry! It’s just… it’s no good if you don’t ask, so I was worried.”

“I was… working up to it,” Nicki said. “I was worried that if I just did it again the same way, it wouldn’t be as good, so I was going to try to be, you know… sultry.”

“You were sultry,” Grace said. “Just do it again, the same as before.”

“…now I don’t know if I can,” Nicki said. “What if I do it again and it’s different?”

I was starting to get a picture of how their three days together might have went, and it seemed less enthralling than the first impression had been. The whole thing probably should have felt incredibly awkward to me, but it also seemed weirdly surreal to the point that I wasn’t feeling the second-hand discomfort. Either that, or my taking charge earlier was still buoying me up, because I felt anything but passive.

“Look,” I said, and they both jumped and looked at me like they’d forgotten I was there. “Sorry. But… you’ve found something that works for both of you. Don’t overthink it. It’s probably not going to be perfect or exactly the way you imagine it in your head, but who cares? Nothing ever is. It’s only a problem if you expect it to be.”

“Okay, let’s just do it,” Grace said. “I mean… still ask! But just go ahead and ask.”

“May I please kiss your hand, my lady?” Nicki said.

“Eee!” Grace said, almost yanking her hand out of Nicki’s. “Sorry, I need to learn to respond with more dignity. But yes, fuck yes! I mean, yes, you may.”

I looked away as Nicki bent down over Grace’s hand and presumably tenderly kissed it.

“Ooh, the next time I see you, you’re going to ask me permission for so many things, you have no idea,” Grace said. “Because that is awesome.”

“I’m looking forward to it, my lady,” Nicki said.

“Oh, you should ask permission for that!” Grace said. “Oh, no, wait, that’s silly. Is it? I’m sorry, this is just… my nipples are like arrowheads right now, and I swear my clit’s trying to jump into your mouth.”

“Your sister’s going to be wondering where you are,” I reminded her. They were both basically my age, so it really wasn’t my job to prevent them from endangering another school day, but I still wanted to head it off if I could.

“Oh, right,” Grace said. She kissed two of her own finger tips, then pressed them to the front of Nicki’s jeans, then turned and glided away at a speed faster than a run. “Goodbye!”

Nicki stayed watching the direction she’d vanished well past the point that there was anything to see.

“Would you mind coming in for a while?” she said to me. “There are things I want to talk to you about, and now that the thrill’s departing, I’m feeling a little… exposed… out in the hall.”

“Sure, Nicki,” I said. “Do you mind if we open a window?”

“No, I guess I should probably air things out a little,” she said.

She unlocked the door and we went in, where she did open the window.

“Am I crazy?” she asked.

“…in what sense?” I asked.

I didn’t think she was worried that she’d imagined Grace or anything like that, but that still left multiple possibilities. I didn’t think she meant something like, “Am I crazy for blowing off class for sex?”, but in case she did, I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that she meant something about having a relationship with Grace. It was the more likely possibility, but it was also the more potentially insulting one if it was wrong.

Maybe I was overthinking it, but that seemed to be the only way I could stop the first thing that popped into my mind from popping out of my mouth.

“I mean, she’s fun and all,” Nicki said. “And she can be nice, but that’s… a lot of work for a kiss.”

“Well, I’m not saying there weren’t some iffy things in there,” I said. “But the two things to remember: one, she’s working, too. I kept getting the sense that she doesn’t agree with the elven perspective on relationships, but it’s the only perspective she has. I mean, she even said she likes the human approach to things better… you just can’t expect her to pick it up overnight, when she grew up among elves and has spent the past couple years around other middlings.”

“I guess you’re right,” Nicki said. “It really wouldn’t be fair to…”

“Okay, hold on,” I said. “There is no ‘fair’ here, or if there is, then it only applies to you. That’s the other thing I was going to tell you to remember: just because she’s trying to solve a problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.”

“So you think I should break up with her?”

“No,” I said. “I think you should make up your own mind, but it should be based on what’s right for you, not any feeling of obligation or abstract principle. It’s not just a question of whether the good outweighs the bad, it’s also a question of whether the bad is too bad. You seem… um… you seem okay with having a submissive position.”

“I’m totally okay with that!” Nicki said. “Like, I would never have said that I was submissive, but… I’ve had thoughts. And it works. At least with her.”

“Okay,” I said. “But she doesn’t just see you as submissive, but inferior. In the nicest and least personal way possible, but still.”

“Is that kind of thing a dealbreaker for you?” Nicki asked.

“That’s a question worth asking,” I said. “Steff… Steff has some shades of that, though she also has a massive inferiority complex of her own. But I think that’s probably one reason why my relationship with Steff is less serious than my other ones.”

It was something I didn’t think I’d ever said out loud, but it was true and something that everyone involved knew. My relationship with Amaranth was the primary one, that much had been spoken of, but my relationship with Ian had more in common with that one than with the one with Steff.

“I think I’m okay with it… for now… but what if I’m not sure?” she asked. “I don’t think I have a problem with her thinking elves are better than humans, I just… the look on her face when I suggested kissing her hand kind of pissed me off. I mean, obviously she liked it when we actually did it, and I think it really that she thought I’d picked her hand because there was something wrong with it, not that she was actually grossed out by the thought of my lips, but… I don’t know how often I can see someone shudder like that because of me before I start to feel gross.”

“If you were sure you were okay with it, I’d tell you to be suspicious of that,” I said. “Tell her up front that it might be a problem, and remember it’s not your job to fix her.”

“Any other tips?”

“Yeah, if she offers you jewelry… well, actually, I was going to make a joke, but in all seriousness… if she offers you a gift, don’t accept it until after you have a long discussion about what it does, and also what it means,” I said. I felt like this warning should be coming from Jamie, since he could speak from experience, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to put the two of them together directly to talk about elven suitors. As much as I wanted Nicki to have her eyes open, hearing the unexpurgated tales of Iason would probably put her off of dating elves forever.

“That sounds like… storybook stuff,” Nicki said.

“Well, you’re dealing with elves,” I said. “She’s not a typical elf, but like she said, she’d never thought about simple gestures of affection outside of the context of elven culture. Even if there isn’t any trap attached, knowing what she expects in return for accepting it might head off some confusion. She might think it’s obvious or not worth mentioning until it’s pointed out.”

“This is why I don’t know about any of this,” Nicki said.

“Are you sorry it happened?”

“That’s the strange thing,” she said. “I’m still glad it happened… even when I thought she was looking at me like I was a bug she’d stepped on, even if I’d just blown my top and told her to fuck if… which I almost did… like, I might have wished it had ended differently, but if I could have gone back in time and undo the weekend, I don’t think I would have. It’s not just that I finally got laid and it was good, it’s… I don’t know. Okay, it is just that, but it’s not just that. Like, I think I’d be more okay with not getting laid, with not having anybody for a while, because of it… I think I could be more confident and secure about it now, which might make it easier to get someone in the future, but also less important? I’m probably not making any sense.”

“…the feelings make sense, even if the words don’t,” I said.

“And I’m glad it worked out like this,” she said, not quite stifling a yawn. “Where you’re the first one who found out, I mean. That seems… right.”

“You sound sleepy,” I said.

“You have no idea,” she said. “I think we dozed off a bit at least once, but I think I’m more behind on sleep than I was on food.”

“I should probably let you sleep,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “I guess I’ll see you in class on Tuesday… oh, that’s tomorrow now, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “Tomorrow is Tuesday. And you know, I mean it when I say you’re welcome to hang out with me anytime.”

“I know,” she said. “And you know what? I probably will.”


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29 Responses to “Chapter 149: Backhanded Compliments”

  1. Faithless says:

    Typo:
    ““Maybe it’s best if you just say goodnight out here,” I said to”

    I think a few words are missing.

    Current score: 0
    • helen rees says:

      Typo: by I don’t should be but I don’t, I think – first paragraph.

      Current score: 0
  2. penguins says:

    “and I think it really that she thought I’d picked her hand because there was something wrong with it”

    not really sure where you where going with that but it doesn’t feel right.

    Current score: 0
  3. Eliska says:

    Typo: “I know some boys do it, but they’re more… aggressive about it then I think I could manage.” Should be “than”.

    Current score: 0
  4. Maahes0 says:

    I like how this relationship is going as compared to the Iason/Jamie one. There’s a definite sense that things can be improved upon.

    I also like to see how much Mack has learned, even if she didn’t realize it from her relationships.

    Current score: 1
    • Mike says:

      Grace seems younger than Iason, less set in her elven ways.

      Current score: 1
  5. Joshua says:

    Typo: “by I” should be “but I”.

    “and I think it really that she thought” should be “and I think it really was that she thought” perhaps? or “and I think she thought”?

    “fuck if” should be “fuck off” perhaps?

    It’s great to see how much assertiveness Nicki has gained here, even if she’s going to have trouble expressing it with this particular partner.

    Mack’s increase in assertiveness is great too.

    Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    It seems that Middle
    Elves into bondage may find that
    They’re bound for Glory

    Current score: 1
    • Kaila says:

      Headdesk.

      Current score: 1
      • JN says:

        I hope you don’t applaud that way all the time. {sends desk cushion}

        Current score: 1
  7. HiEv says:

    Ah, the complicated dance between what is supposedly right for everyone and what is actually right for just some people. It’s amazing how hard it can be to step outside society’s or even just your own personal opinions on how people should be treated, and realize that some people actually choose to be treated in ways that are counter the preferences of most other people.

    “To each his own” is far easier to say than to put into practice when such a situation is unexpectedly thrown in your face.

    Current score: 1
    • pedestrian says:

      Yes, I think you are right.

      Our problem with establishing relationships, is coherently defining the boundaries of propriety,
      that we expect the other person to respect and honor.

      Then we need to take the time, make the effort, have the patience to mutually negotiate, in honest faith, consensual agreement for bilateral standards and expectations.

      Current score: 0
  8. Zergonapal says:

    Maybe Nicki would benefit from a talk with Steff for another point of view.

    Current score: 0
    • Not her the other girl says:

      I was thinking that once they’re introduced Amaranth could talk to Grace about the Dom/sub thing vs. having someone as in inferior. That chapter might be as painful to read as this one though – not that that’s bad! It’s true to the characters, but damn there’s so much awkward going on that Mack’s actually the most with it person in the scene. Now how’s *that* compared to a year ago, ha.

      Current score: 0
      • Daemion says:

        While she’s getting better I still don’t think Amaranth has any business giving relationship advice. Maybe in 5-10 years she will have any actual experience she can use as a basis for advice… but at the moment all her knowledge stems from books and her first year at MU, during which she made way too many mistakes and she hasn’t even realized the full extent of that yet.

        You don’t ask someone who just got their license how to win races and you don’t ask an 18 year old for relationship advice.

        As for getting information… ask as many people as possible, from as many different groups as possible… and then form your own opinion and preferences based on that.

        I still get the urge to slap both Mack and Amy when they mention the collar and their plans… but hey, they are still naive kids and bound to screw up anyway. 😉

        Current score: 0
  9. Readaholic says:

    Awww. More Grace and Nicki cuteness – with additional reminders of how MU elves are more messed up.

    Current score: 0
    • tomclark says:

      Indeed. It seems that even the adorably awkward Mack-elves are horribly screwed up.

      After that OT we just got, it’s good to see that *some* things are still consistent… 😛

      Current score: 0
  10. Pangaea says:

    This chapter was wonderful. Cute, funny, incisive, sincere. Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  11. Cadnawes says:

    We don’t know Acantha very well but I’ve kind of been thinking that elves like her might be a good influence on Grace. She’s shy but functional, and cares and knows enough about human culture to wear those suits. Plus old enough to not be completely batshit insane.

    Just a random musing.

    Current score: 0
  12. Someguy says:

    I’ve sad it before & I’ll say it again:-

    “For a thousand years or longer, the elf has insisted on his inherent superiority to the races with which he shares this blessed continent.

    However for that to be true, we must understand what makes a people superior. The elf contends that it is the longevity of his people and civilization, as well as the uniformity of his people in culture, religion and language that makes his people, and language that makes his people, and no others, the most superior among races.
    Let us assume then, for the moment, that the elven argument holds water. That the superiority of a species depends on it’s long life, and it’s sameness to others of that species in behavior rather than it’s achievements.

    Let us ignore the constant innovation in all fields that some shorter lived species have engaged in. Let us ignore the elven weakness in war to the point where,
    in a thousand year period, they have only survived the constant sackings of their cities through a blend of their own predisposition of hiding in the forests and through concealing magic that further locks their cities away from the world.
    This is not to say, of course, that the elves use of magic is not ancient in origin- ten thousand years before anyone else discovered how to manipulate the currents of mana, and bind those currents to specific words and amulets with which to control that ambient energy.

    Neither are the elven cities ruined or ugly. Rather they are beautiful, grand centers of art and literature that has held up through the centuries.

    Their defensive warfare suits them, since their offensives have become completely ineffective due to their low birth rate and high rate of decentralization the elven kings find it difficult to gather armies of more than a few thousand.
    However, in a thousand years the elves have not produced a single author of note. When they come to the market every once in a while, the goods they bring remain the same.

    While the outside world has enriched itself on the back of an ever increasing store of knowledge with which to create superior weaponry, cities, better organized societies and governments- the elf has stagnated.

    How can a race that so utterly lacks any kind of creative instinct be considered “superior”. How can any race that that cannot even grasp the glories of war, the intricacies of strategy and the ability of a strong commander, with a powerful government backing him, to mobilize a great army and allow his sub-commanders to make use of their resources in order to destroy the enemy.

    In short, the elves are not a superior race. Our studies of genetics, alongside the works of human and dwarven scientists, have proven that the elf is not in fact descended from a tree god or fairies from another world. No, the elf- like the human and the dwarf, is descended from a great ape. However the elven ancestor actually returned to the forests after having left.
    Such a cowardly beast seems to have done so out of the lack of ability to compete for food in the open like the other races.

    Gorged on the fruits of the forest, the elf-ape evolved to a sapient state more quickly, but at the sacrifice of the traits needed to sustain it’s evolution. A long-lived race of lazy apes was created, and even to thisday they swing from tree to tree as their ancient furry ancestors must have done, whining as we cut their trees for lumber to supply our most modern of industries.

    Then what do the elves have? Longevity we have established. And that is all they have. A long life. Then, if the elves are so unproductive as a race that in our race’s three thousand years of civilization we have surpassed their twelve thousand, then the best option I can recommend for the elves would be their quick enslavement to our people, their long lives and immunity to disease ensuring a high rate of slave survival irregardless of how we are effected by disease or old age.

    The elven arrogance must end, and this is the most effective solution for the elven race. Let us not engage in wanton genocide when we have at last stumbled upon a way in which we may free the great bulk of our people from menial labor, in order that we may engage in the great pursuits of war and dueling that much more.”

    -Kragskraw Mograw, twenty-first Orcish chancellor in an address to the Orcis

    Eleves are only fit to be slaves.

    Current score: 0
    • Daemion says:

      There is no such thing as genetics and who knows if there even is something like evolution in the MUniverse.

      Current score: 0
  13. asimov067 says:

    Safe, sane, and consensual.

    Current score: 0
  14. Louise says:

    I know that English is a living language and thus mutable, but regardless, “irregardless” is not a word.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      practically irredeemable….

      Current score: 0
  15. pedestrian says:

    If I remember correctly, the Elvish deities have not been heard from in Eons. That does not mean they no longer exist. If the Elves came under enough pressure to beg their protection? Then again, there are individuals, perhaps ‘circles’, of modernized Elves such as Professor Acantha.

    It would be unwise to discount Modernist Elves capability at dealing with an imminent threat to their survival. Those who embody the concept of self-entitlement have a tendency to become homicidal maniacs when their narcissist bubble is pricked by changing realities.

    “Safe, Sane, and Consensual”. From my own experiences and talking to people in alternative communities and my own observation of said lifestyles, I am of the opinion that the phrase should be changed to “Safe, SOBER, and Consensual”.

    Too many of the practitioners are drug abusers. There goes “Safe” and as far as I’m concerned “Consensual”.

    Current score: 0
  16. Don says:

    Maybe some time someone in this story could enjoy sex without domination games for a change….

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Ain’t gonna be THIS society….

      Current score: 0
  17. anon y mouse says:

    “If I heard or saw somethingdangerous, I’d speak up” – needs a space between something and dangerous.

    Current score: 0
  18. Anonymous says:

    No matter the medium, elves are almost always assholes.

    Current score: 0