277: Getting Ready

on September 2, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Amaranth Buys Expensive Jewelry

Once the post-orgasmic haze began to subside a little, I became more aware of the little circlet of metal on my finger. It was barely cooler than my skin now. In the heat of the moment, I hadn’t thought anything of it… and it hadn’t done anything to grab my attention.

“I don’t think this did anything,” I said, holding my finger up for Amaranth to see. “I mean, I didn’t feel anything.”

“I almost told you not to bother,” Steff said to her. “Considering how Mack reacts to the ice magic, and that I don’t usually do the baby-making thing, and we should both be pretty resistant to begin with…”

“Yes, but a small risk is still a risk,” Amaranth said. “Even if you had sex a hundred times without getting sick, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Anyway, there’s a reason Mack didn’t react this time.”

She smiled and held out the wrapper. I took it from her and read it: “Lysander’s Certified Elementally-Neutral Magic For Personal Protection”.

“It’s my surprise for you,” Amaranth said. “I’ve been doing some research… I mean, there are humans… or people who are mostly human… with elemental affinities and vulnerabilities, too. So, I started doing some research… looking for tapestries about elementals and health issues, and things like that. A lot of what I found was stuff we’d already thought of, like using necromancy to stop pregnancy and divine magic to block or just cure the diseases. But, I figured that even if most solutions wouldn’t be geared towards a half-demon, many people who would use one of those two things might have a moral or philosophical problem with the other… so I kept looking for another solution.”

“And you found it?” Steff said.

“Yes,” Amaranth said, beaming with pride. “But I didn’t do it by myself… I thought, ‘Who would know about people with elemental affinities?’ So, I went to see Professor Bohd in her office the other day.”

“You what?” I asked, feeling the heat rising up in my face to the very tips of my ears.

“Oh, she was very helpful, baby,” Amaranth said. “She told me that it isn’t just fire types who have problems with the ice rings. People who are water-aligned also have stronger than typical reactions to them, and they don’t work at all for the ice-resistant. So, she gave me the name of a small company that makes sexual barrier rings… they’re more expensive and are only rated for thirty minutes, but they’re actually more effective than the ice spells. She told me the weave site to order them from, and I had a box rushed out… I was hoping to have them for you yesterday, but they just missed it.”

“Amaranth, you went to talk to my teacher about my sex life?”

“Well, I didn’t say ‘Hi, your student Mackenzie Blaise wants to have sex but is vulnerable to cold.’,” Amaranth said. “I just asked her what would be a good solution for somebody who can’t use an ice-based ring for elemental reasons.”

“Yeah, but if she pays any attention to campus gossip… or the news…”

“Oh, baby, after spending even two minutes talking to her, I’m honestly surprised you’d be worried about that,” Amaranth said. “She struck me as the very soul of discretion, which isn’t surprising considering her taste for… um, well, anyway, the box should last you for a good long while, and it’s got the address to get more, if I… if I can’t do it for you.”

“Amy, hon, there’s no reason to talk like that,” Steff said.

“I just want Mack to be safe and happy,” Amaranth said. “If I can’t be the one… well, you guys don’t have to worry about each other’s germs now.”

Steff laughed.

“Hon, you can’t get germs from somebody who doesn’t have them to begin with,” she said.

“Oh… I knew that,” Amaranth said. “But, you both have sex with other people, and I don’t know if you can carry germs when they don’t make you sick or not. It just doesn’t seem like we… like you should risk it.”

I shook my head. I didn’t understand their “germ” beliefs to begin with, but it hardly seemed to matter… Amaranth’s defeatism was disheartening. That word might have been completely inadequate, unless it was used with the understanding that it could literally mean “removing the heart from somebody.” That’s what I felt like… like my heart was being ripped slowly out of my chest.

“Amaranth… we still have a chance,” I said. “Mother Khaele might not…”

“She might not… but she might, and I’m going to take as good care of you as I can, while I can,” Amaranth said. “I also ordered you a healert bracelet while you were in classes this afternoon, with your vulnerability to sanctity and cold listed on it, along with your dietary needs.”

“Is that really necessary?” I asked. “The diet thing?”

“Well, what if you’re unconscious for a long time and they can’t wake you up?” she said. “Or you’re found hurt and half-starved already? I don’t want something to happen to you because you’re hungry and nobody can figure out what you need.”

“In that case, I don’t really think it’s likely a bracelet’s going to change the outcome,” I said.

“But it might,” Amaranth said. She sounded a little bit desperate, to the point where I felt bad for saying anything. “It improves your odds. That’s what this is about… minimizing the chance of something bad happening, as much as I can.”

She put her hands on my shoulders and looked down into my face… not sternly or threateningly, just looking. I thought about saying something, but she was concentrating so intensely that I didn’t want to interrupt. It was like she was trying to chisel me into her memory in as much detail as possible.

After a few moments, Steff faked a cough. She wasn’t very good at it, and so it was pretty obvious. Imagine somebody trying to imitate a cough by reading a random onomatopoeia of one off the page of a comic book, in a gruff and gravelly voice. Rather, in the elven version of a gruff and gravelly voice. That was Steff’s attempt at a discreet interruption.

A bit after that, Amaranth finally shook herself out of whatever it was she’d slipped into.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should be trying to keep a positive outlook for you… when I first started looking for the rings, I was looking for something for all of us to share, you and me and Steff, you and me and Ian… maybe not you and me and Ian and Steff… but when the package came today, after the interview… well, it was like a slap in the face. I looked at the box and said ‘What’s the point?’, and then I almost threw it away. Then I realized that would be horribly selfish, or at least self-centered… after all, I’d bought the rings for you, not for me… and I decided that I needed to do as much for you as I could.”

“Amaranth… you’ve done so much for me already,” I said. “Without you, I’d still be freaking out every time somebody looked at me. Without you, I’d probably still be Puddy’s personal punching bag and sex doll. Without you, I wouldn’t even be eating. All that has got to count for something.”

“It counts for a lot, baby,” she said. “I mean, to me… hearing you say that… it means the world. But, the problem isn’t what I can do for you.”

“It’s what I might do to you,” I said, turning and moving away. “Right.”

“This is such bullshit,” Steff said. “What can you do to her, Mack? She’s immortal and stuffed full of healing goodness… and let’s face it, if Mommy Divinest is worried about corrupting influences in her daughter’s life, she’d probably have bigger concerns than you.”

“Agree or disagree, Mother Khaele is a goddess,” Amaranth said. “She’s my goddess, in fact… my creator and the source of my power. That gives her authority…”

“That gives her responsibility,” Steff said. “For your happiness, not just your safety.”

“Steff, you’ve never been religious,” Amaranth said. “So I don’t expect you to…”

“No, but I’ve had parents,” Steff said. “A good one and a bad one. I know the difference. My mom wasn’t able to protect me from everything… and I think she would have gone crazy if she’d known what school was like… well, she couldn’t have helped it, anyway. My point is, if she’d only been concerned about keeping me safe, the smartest thing for her to do would have been for her to throw out my earrings and everything I owned that was remotely girly, and try to make me butch up a little. If she’d made me act like a straight boy all through high school, I probably wouldn’t have been attacked nearly as much… but I’d have been even more miserable than I was, and it’s anybody’s guess how I’d have turned out after that.”

“I suppose you have a point,” Amaranth said. “In a way… I mean, I think it’s a little different when we’re talking about a goddess and not a literal parent… and the fact is, even if I disagree with Mother Khaele’s judgment, I don’t really have a choice. So, it’s better to be prepared for… anything that might happen.”

I wanted to say something comforting to her… but even more, I wanted her to say something comforting to me. Selfish, huh? I had Steff, and I probably still had Ian… though our last date had been so weird it was hard to say… but Amaranth had nobody. She could love the whole world, in her way, but there was nobody in her life she shared anything special with… not even Barley, the “sister” who she’d thought the world of.

There was a quick, sharp set of knocks on the door. Kai’s voice came through it. “I hope you don’t plan to leave me out here all evening,” she said. “And don’t forget you need a shower.”

“I know!” I yelled back.

“Fucking hell, she’s annoying,” Steff said. “I always figured she’d be the nice one.”

“I’m sure she’s nice enough, if you get to know her,” Amaranth said.

“Save your condescension for somebody with a penis, please,” Kai said.

Steff and I glared at the closed door, but I went to my bag to get out my shower stuff. I really did need a shower, even more so after our shared exertions.

“Oh… I still have your money,” I said to Amaranth. “What you gave me, for emergencies.”

“Keep it,” Amaranth said. “For emergencies.”

“Amaranth, what if you need it?”

“I can’t possibly need it as much as I need to know that you’re safe,” she said.

“A gold coin’s not enough to buy safety for anybody, let alone Mack,” Steff said.

“But it could make a difference,” Amaranth said. She took my hands in hers and squeezed them gently in her own. “Baby, I need you to understand… I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to leave you. But if I have to… I want you to be prepared, and I want you to try to be happy.”

I didn’t have a response to that. How could I prepare for something like that? How could I hope to be happy if the first person who’d really cared about me in years… the person I loved the most… the person whose very touch calmed and thrilled me at the same time… how could I be happy if she was suddenly gone from my life, stripped away from me by divine decree? I’d always known the gods were against me in an abstract and general way. Having one reach down and take away the first good thing in my life… they might as well just destroy me outright.

I got out of my clothes and into my bathrobe, shared kisses with Amaranth and Steff both, and then hurried from the room before I broke down crying completely. Amaranth looked like she was on the verge herself… if I started crying, she would, too.

Kai pushed the chair inside the room when I opened the door, and then fell in beside me without a word as I headed down the hall. Feejee the mermaid came out of the bathroom when we were about halfway there, her legs in scaled form. She smiled at the sight of me. She had a nice, big, welcoming smile… a little too welcoming. I couldn’t look at all of her pearly white teeth any more without picturing them shifted.

“Oh, are you taking a bath?” she said, hurrying up to me. “I just got out, but I can go back…”

“I was going to take a shower, actually,” I said. “I’ve kind of got plans.”

“Oh. I was hoping I’d catch you in the baths sometime today, but they told me you went to class.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I do tend to do that, sometimes.”

She laughed, then pushed me on the shoulder in that kind-of-hitting way people do when they’re trying too hard to bond.

“You’re funny, you know that?” she said. She left her hand there, touching my shoulder. “Anyway, I was really hoping for a chance to talk to you… alone.” As she said the last word, her hand gripped my shoulder hard and the smile disappeared from her eyes, replaced by something cold and dark.

“I… I…” I stammered, paralyzed by the hunger stirring inside her eyes.

“Oh, whatever,” Kai said, shoving me towards Feejee’s room. “I’ll be out here. If I knock and you don’t come out…”

“Oh, she’ll definitely be coming back out!” Feejee said quickly. “We’ll be right back, seriously, and both of us alive.” She pulled me inside and closed the door. “First of all, I want to thank you for turning me on to that place,” she said. “Iona and I really appreciated a little taste of home. I was a little leery about it. I mean, it seemed wrong since we’re nowhere near the ocean, but Io convinced me that since we weren’t actually hunting… and, well… Amaranth said it would really save your bacon, so to speak.”

She laughed at her joke, but it was as forced and nervous-sounding as her laughter outside had been.

“Yeah, thanks,” I said.

“I was hoping that you might be… well, you’ve been avoiding me so much, since the party,” she said.

“That’s not… entirely true,” I said. “I see you in the bathroom, the same as always.”

“But you never want to come back here,” she said. “You never let me be alone with you.”

“I didn’t hang out in your room before,” I said. “So… nothing really changed.”

“I don’t want things to be weird between us, Mack,” she said. “I just want to be your friend.”

“Okay,” I said. “I can handle that.”

“And friends do things for each other,” she said. She sat down on her bed and patted the spot beside her. I stayed where I was. She shifted her legs and other lower parts from scales to smooth skin, and patted it again.

“If you want me to check over your essay or something, I’m a pretty good writer,” I said, resolutely looking at her face instead of her crotch. She’d changed her barbells for a pair of rings, I noticed. “I’m also pretty handy for moving furniture… as long as it’s not too breakable,” I said. It was my turn for a fakey, nervous chuckle.

She patted the bed again, frowning.

“I helped you yesterday,” she said.

“You just got done thanking me for that,” I said. “Don’t you think that kind of makes it a mutual thing?”

“Oh, I enjoyed it a lot,” she said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you would have been in very hot water without my help. I gave up one of my necklaces for you, you know that? And, besides… I seem to recall you enjoying yourself, last time… so this is sort of a mutual thing, too.”

“You just had an actual meal,” I said. “Why would you want just a taste after that?”

“I told you, I’ve got your scent,” she said. “And I like it. It’s… it’s exotic. Anyway, the meal was good and filling, but it didn’t last. You aren’t as satisfying… but I could suck on you forever, and never run out.”

The way she said it, it sounded more erotic than it was… and in actuality, it was pretty damn erotic to begin with. The nibbled-by-mermaids part was, anyway… the actual eating of people was anything but.

“I have to go, Feejee,” I said, backing towards the door.

“You’re running away from me again,” she said, her green lips curling into a frown.

“Feejee, I’ve got a date with Sooni,” I said. “And she’s not really good at sharing… if I’m not ready…”

“Go, then,” she said. “But promise me you won’t run off next time… because I think we really need to talk about this, come to some sort of understanding, if we’re going to stay friends.”

“Okay,” I said. “We will.”

She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose, then stuck out her tongue and tasted the air. Her tongue was greenish, too, and fairly large. It might have looked gross… but it didn’t. Not sticking out between her thick green lips.

“I can’t believe Celia thinks you smell bad,” she said, shivering with pleasure.

“Where is Celia, anyway?” I asked. “It seems like I’ve hardly seen her around the last week.”

“Oh, I think she’s been avoiding you, actually,” Feejee said. “After the election, she was sure you were going to be pissed at her.”

“What, because she missed it?” I asked. “Tell her I don’t care. I’ve got way too much going on to worry about who did or didn’t show up to vote me into a job I didn’t want in the first place.”

“Okay,” Feejee said. “So… are you going out out, on this date or staying in?”

“Out,” I said.

“Do you think you’ll be back tonight?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Look, I’ve really got to go… I’ll talk to you tomorrow. We can take a bath together. Baths, I mean… separate ones.”

“Okay, but I want to see you in private,” she said. “Alone. Here.”

“We’ll talk about that,” I said.

“Promise?” she asked. Her eyes were shifting, the black in the center expanding to fill the whole of the orbs. I felt my chest constricting. It was disconcerting to see, but impossible to look away.

“I promise!” I said, my hand on the doorknob. I opened it and backed out before she could say or do anything more.

I’d only agreed to talk about being alone with her… not to actually do anything. I could only hope that Feejee’s comprehension in the area of promises was better than Sooni’s.


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7 Responses to “277: Getting Ready”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Why would a predator be concerned with their prey’s feelings?

    As i sit back comfortably and munch my way through a a plate of BBQ mutton.

    to annoy all the veggies i meet, i abuse their good natures with this joke: the reason that eating meat is of a higher morality then vegetarianism, is that at least the carnivore’s prey can run away.

    Current score: 7
  2. Psi-Ko says:

    Ohoho, Pedestrian. I like that one.

    Also, I think Feejee’s concerned about the legal side of just nonchalantly chowing down on someone without consent…

    Current score: 1
    • MackSffrs says:

      I gleaned that Feejee was only concerned for her psuedoprey’s feelings.

      Current score: 1
  3. Erm says:

    “Hon, you can’t get germs from somebody who doesn’t have them to begin with,”

    Wasn’t there a passing mention of “sexually generated diseases”? Might have been in MToMU.

    Current score: 0
  4. Arkeus says:

    [I]

    “Promise?” she asked. Her eyes were shifting, the black in the center expanding to fill the whole of the orbs. I felt my chest constricting. It was disconcerting to see, but impossible to look away.

    “I promise!” I said, my hand on the doorknob. I opened it and backed out before she could say or do anything more. [/I]

    Goddamit Mack.

    Current score: 0
  5. Arakano says:

    GODDAMIT INDEED! She just got punished for not telling Amaranth about someone abusing her, and STILL did not mention Kai’s abuse towards her? UGH!

    Current score: 3
  6. Jechtael says:

    “…She struck me as the very soul of discretion, which isn’t surprising considering her taste for… um, well, anyway…”
    Well, she’s certainly more discreet than a certain nymph whose name rhymes with Spamaranth.

    Now, I see a problem with “always tell me when you’re being abused”. That’s not very clear. Is Kai’s physical attack abuse, or just putting her charge in her place the same way Viktor might? Is Feejee’s manipulation abuse, or does it “not count” because it’s not physical, and if it does become physical it might TECHNICALLY (*wry scoff*) be consensual? Amaranth needs to learn which loopholes to close and which loopholes to let Mackenzie use as needed.

    Current score: 3