275: Cat’s Paw

on August 30, 2008 in Book 10

In Which A Cat And A Golem Are Both Put Out

It seemed that Steff had never even left Harlowe. She might not even have left the fifth floor at all while I was at class… she came out of my room as soon as Kai and I left the stairwell.

“Hey, Mack, we’re in… oh,” she said, stopping both speech and stride when she spotted the nekoyokai.

“Sooni thinks I need a handler so I don’t run off,” I said.

“What… Baby Kai-Kai?” Steff asked. “What’s she going to do, throw her binky at you?”

Kai said something in broken elvish. Steff burst out laughing.

“What is so funny?” Kai demanded.

Kitty!” Steff replied. “Threaten me again… it’s adorable.”

“Steff, you aren’t helping,” I said. “Kai’s just trying to get her degree.”

“Don’t patronize me,” Kai said. “In fact, don’t speak to me.” She walked past us to the door of the room she unofficially shared with Suzi and Maliko, putting her ear to it and then to the room she shared on paper with Sooni. Apparently satisfied that none of the other yokai were about, she took her bag back from me and pulled out her book. “I just want to read in peace.”

Steff looked at me like she wanted my permission to say or do something. I gave her an imploring look… I didn’t want to make Kai’s life any more difficult than it already was, and if this insane assignment from Sooni gave her a chance to have a few hours’ peace, I could put up with a little misplaced bellicosity.

“Was it her, Steff?” Amaranth asked, popping out of my room. “Oh, hi, baby! And… you brought Kai with you?”

Kai ignored her, slipping past her and through the doorway without touching her.

“Hey!” Two protested from inside the room. “You can’t come into the room without… bags don’t go on the floor! Hey, you’re supposed to look at people when they talk to you.”

“Calm down, sweetie,” Amaranth said as Steff and I hurried towards the door. “Kai, why don’t you put your things on Mack’s desk?”

Kai had plopped herself down in the corner and was ignoring Amaranth as she had Two. Amaranth turned and looked at me for an explanation.

“She’s here to make sure I don’t ‘forget’ about the date with Sooni,” I said. “Sooni’s orders.”

“Oh,” Amaranth said. She turned to Kai. “Well, if you feel you have to be here, you might as well make the best of it, right?”

“I am,” Kai said, not looking up from her book.

“I just mean, we might as well get to know each other a…”

“No,” Kai said.

“Well, there’s no reason you have to be rude,” Amaranth said.

Kai said nothing.

“Let’s just leave her alone, okay?” I said.

“She didn’t ask to come in here,” Two said.

“Well, maybe Mack gave her permission,” Amaranth said.

“It’s my room, too,” Two grumbled. “Nobody asked me if I wanted a tiny rude cat person in my room. Nobody told her she could sit in my corner.”

“Two, that isn’t your corner,” I said. “And maybe I don’t want her here either, but…”

“Okay,” Two said. She turned to the corner where Kai sat reading. “Leave now.”

“Two…” I said.

“Did you hear me? Leave!” Two said, storming in closer to Kai. I felt a warning tingle of fear and excitement on the back of my neck… it was like seeing an impending collision moments before it happened.

“Oh, this is going to get ugly,” Steff said. Amaranth threw her arms around from behind me, surrounding me with her loving warmth while Steff ran and grabbed Two by the arm as Kai, still not looking up from her book, raised one hand and popped out her claws. I felt something constricting inside me, like a serpent coiling before a strike… but just for a moment before the scent and feel of Amaranth overwhelmed it.

“Hey!” Two protested as Steff pulled her back and grabbed the book out of Kai’s hand. Kai hissed angrily.

“Here’s the thing, Kai-Kai,” Steff said. “There’s a very simple rule about threatening Two: don’t. The rule is enforced by penalties up to and including horrible burning death, and since we don’t want our friend burning down the dorm when there are camera crews lurking around, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

Kai sprang at Steff, one hand in front of her like a spear. Steff twirled aside.

“Give me my book,” she said.

Steff dangled it up over her head, then tossed it at the open door. It had barely left her fingers when Kai snatched it out of the air.

“I am not leaving,” she said. “Nothing you can threaten me with is going to change my mind, so you might as well leave me alone and don’t touch my book.”

“Kai, you already left me to go to the bathroom and when I went into class,” I said. “And you said you’re going to leave when I change, so what’s the big deal?”

“I will set my own priorities, thank you,” she said. “Maliko and Suzi were unlikely to wander into the history building while you were in class.”

“You don’t seem concerned that they might decide to come back when I’m getting dressed,,” I pointed out.

“Less concerned than I would be about being in the same room as you, naked,” she said. “And it’s a smaller risk than leaving you for the whole time. Now, if you will please excuse me, I’d like to…”

“If you just want to sit and read, Kai, why don’t you take a chair and sit out by the door?” Amaranth said. “It’s the only way in and out of the room, so you could honestly say you had Mack covered the whole time. You won’t have to listen to our conversations if you don’t want to, and Two won’t have to deal with an, uh, unexpected visitor in her room.”

Kai glared at her, as if she resented the injection of logic into her martyr-like sulking. Then she turned to me.

“Don’t forget to shower,” she said. “I am supposed to make sure you are ‘extra clean in your lady-parts’.”

She reached for the nearest desk chair, which happened to be Two’s.

“You aren’t taking my chair,” Two said. “You didn’t ask.”

“Take mine,” I said, pulling it out for her.

“Say ‘thank you’,” Two said to Kai as she dragged the chair out the door. Kai ignored her.

“Hush, Two,” Amaranth said. “She’s fine.”

“No, she isn’t,” Two said. “She’s rude.”

“I don’t think she’s having a very good day,” Amaranth said.

“Look, can we not talk about Kai?” I asked. “The situation’s dealt with, so let’s move on.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. She gave me a long, slow kiss, which I accepted with gratitude.

Two started straightening up the room, picking up my book bag and grumbling about being ordered to stay out of her classes. Evidently she’d reached a point in her development where she could process conflicting sets of instructions with poor grace instead of shutting down in the face of them.

“Mack went to her classes,” she said. “And she’s like my sister. If she got to go to classes, I should have been able to, too. That would have been fair.”

“Well, Two,” Amaranth said, “don’t you think that Mack is just a little bit better equipped than you are, when it comes to things like handling attention from the media?”

I watched Two think hard about it, her face going through all the little twitches and tics, before she answered.

“No,” she said, finally. “She isn’t.”

Amaranth sighed and gave Two a hug.

“You can go to classes on Monday,” she said. “If the circus hasn’t died down by then, we’ll… I don’t know… make the guards escort us. I know this is a public institution, but it’s ridiculous that they should give reporters the run of the place while we’re prisoners in our own dorm.”

“Okay,” Two said.

“How about you, baby?” Amaranth asked me. “Did you get to your classes okay?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“No problems with reporters?”

“I ran into a couple, but… uh… I got rid of them fairly quickly,” I said. I got an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought about Loretta, and how her line of questioning had turned from fairly innocuous to pointed.

Amaranth frowned, biting her lip.

“What?” I asked.

“I hope you didn’t say anything rash,” she said. “I’m pretty sure Lee didn’t want you talking to the media.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “But… we didn’t talk about the arbitration case.”

“No, but public opinion going against you isn’t going to help,” she said. “What did you talk about?”

“I’m not sure we should be discussing this in public,” I said, glancing at the door. I didn’t know what kind of hearing the nekos had, but even human ears were more than up to the task of listening through an open door..

“Hon, if you were talking to a reporter, I think privacy’s already gone out the window,” Steff said.

“What did you say, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“It wasn’t what I said so much as the way she was asking questions,” I said. “Some things came up… like my diet, and, uh, Steff’s habits.”

“The alchemical thing?” Steff said. “I’m clean, except by prescription, and if they want to make a big deal over my mood potions, they can take a flying fuck at a dragon.”

I didn’t say anything. If they were calling Steff a necrophiliac on the news, she’d probably see or hear about it herself sooner or later. That was assuming she hadn’t seen it already. I honestly didn’t know if it was true or not. She’d never been shy about her fascination with dead bodies, but… she was a necromancer. Just because she treated them like playthings didn’t mean she… treated them like playthings.

“Well, I suppose it’s too late to call the arrow back to the string,” Amaranth said, squeezing me tightly. “Just… be more careful, baby, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“I told you,” Two muttered.

“Yeah, they don’t need your help making us look like a bunch of freaks and monsters,” Steff said, putting her arms around both of us. “They’re more than capable of doing that on their own.”

“So, what did you guys do all afternoon?” I asked, glad to leave the topic of my impromptu interview behind.

“Oh, we hung out,” Steff said. She grinned. “Put a sock on the door for a while.”

Amaranth giggled.

“Steff is so much more relaxed now, it’s amazing,” she said.

“After our date, I feel like I’ve got an enormous load off my… chest,” Steff said, with a smirk and a wink. I blushed. “No, seriously, I’m feeling pretty good. It’s not just you, of course. The potions are helping… things are going well with Viktor, though he’s in a ginormous funk today…”

“What’s he in a funk about?” I asked.

I didn’t know what, if anything, Steff had told him about our date, either the disastrous parts or the more personal ones. I couldn’t begin to guess how he might react to talk of our love for each other, or of my attempts to get Steff to talk about other options for her future. He was just too alien, too outside my experience for me to really know how he’d take something like that… but it didn’t seem like too big a stretch to see him as the jealously possessive type.

“The networks got a hold of his mirror,” Steff said. “They were after him for a comment all yesterday evening, when he’d been looking forward to peace and quiet. He turned it around to face the wall eventually, but the damage was done… he just wasn’t in a mood to ‘create’.”

“That’s too bad,” Amaranth said.

“Gwynedd tried to cheer him up,” Steff said. “Did you know she has a nickname for you now, Mack?”

“Is it ‘Cunt’?” I guessed.

“Oh, yeah, I guess you have heard it,” Steff said.

“I really don’t like her,” I said.

“You just need to get to know her, baby,” Amaranth said. “It’s hard for her, since she can’t really communicate.”

“She communicates pretty well with her hands and feet,” I said. Amaranth was frowning at me. “What?”

“Baby, did she hit you?”

“Uh…”

Answer,” she said, giving me The Look over her glasses.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, ducking my head.

“When?”

“When I was, uh, doing the thing with Viktor,” I said. I didn’t want to mention the specifics with Kai stationed outside the door.

“Last weekend? A week ago?” Amaranth asked.

“Not quite a week,” I said.

“What are you supposed to do when somebody’s abusing you, baby?” Amaranth asked. “What did I tell you?”

“I know!” Two said.

“Hush,” Amaranth said. “What is the rule, Mack?”

“It didn’t seem like a big…”

Amaranth put a finger on my lips, and I hushed up.

“Two, please excuse us. Steff, be a dear and close the door behind her,” Amaranth said. “I guess I haven’t been a very attentive owner. It seems we’ve been getting sloppy in the area of your discipline, baby, and I’m afraid it’s starting to show.”


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9 Responses to “275: Cat’s Paw”

  1. Arkeus says:

    Annnnd Amaranth forgot everything her Mother told her just scant hours ago. Good going there, Amy.

    Current score: 1
  2. Arakano says:

    Well, frankly, Mack NEEDS to grow a spine about people abusing her, and if Amy is required to help her with that, she should do it! Gwynedd, Kai… it’s sickening to watch it.

    Current score: 4
  3. fragzilla says:

    Its a shame Mack doesn’t want to be a mother. If her instincts about protecting Two are any indication, she would be a merciless protector of her progeny.

    Current score: 1
    • BlackWizard says:

      Yeeaah…But the demon babies part….not so good.

      Current score: 1
    • MentalBlank says:

      Not to mention; can you imagine her kids playing with other kids? Kids can be cruel or careless. One kid hurts her child, she goes into demon rage and eats the aforementioned kids which just happens to contain her food… not a good mix…

      Current score: 4
    • Anon says:

      Merciless is actually a ways down the list of desirable traits in maternal figures. Behind say, nurturing, cautious, responsible, organized, unlikely to accidentally eat people…

      Current score: 2
  4. LogicSwitch says:

    Why hasn’t Amaranth learned about funishment yet? It’s exceptionally difficult to punish someone by giving them something they enjoy and Mack clearly enjoys spankings.

    Current score: 0
    • J says:

      It’s not really the spanking that’s helping. It’s Mack having a concrete reminder that her owner (someone whose opinion she holds very dear) is disappointed in her.

      Current score: 5
      • Athena says:

        And disappointment really is totally un-fun even if you like spankings. Pretty much any masochist can tell you there’s a difference between play and a real, honest-to-god punishment.

        So can Mack. She did get one, earlier in the story, and was left in tears at the end of it. She needed it, but she did *not* have fun.

        If the transgressions aren’t so serious, however, than as J said she mostly just needs the reminder – and the emotional release (after all, she’s less bratty and high-strung after a spanking). Those ones don’t actually *need* to be full-on punishment, as they serve their purpose without that.

        The worst risk is transgressing in order to get the punishment, which wouldn’t be an issue if Amaranth was doing what she said she would (spanking her every night regardless… granted there’s been nights where it hasn’t been really possible cause Mack’s been out, but she hasn’t been doing it the other nights either, and she should be).

        Current score: 1