248: The Intricate Dance

on July 8, 2008 in Book 9

In Which Mackenzie Is Not With Amaranth

Steff did my make-up with all of her usual skill, then left to join Amaranth on the boys’ side before Ian arrived so that I could be alone with him… but she didn’t make it out of the room without turning around and kissing me passionately on the lips.

It didn’t last long, maybe only a few seconds, but she crammed so much need into those few seconds that it left me weak.

She didn’t say anything when we came apart. I started to say her name, but she held her finger to my lips and shushed me. After fixing my make-up a bit, she darted from the room as fast as I’d ever seen her move.

One more night, I thought. Assuming that everything went less than catastrophically at the meeting with Viktor, we’d be set for our own night out.

I sighed and leaned against the ladder-side of the bunk beds, waiting for my date. I thought that I understood how Steff felt. I positively ached for her. Maybe it was only because she’d ached for me first, but I did it all the same.

I wondered if what I felt for Steff… that mirroring of need for need, that sweet and overwhelming reciprocity of love… was anything like what Amaranth felt for me. She’d intimated that she loved me as she did because I needed to be loved. Did that make her love for me the same as my love for Steff?

As much as I felt privileged to have this insight, I also felt like it couldn’t possibly be true. If my own feelings of love for different people could vary so widely, how would it be possible for a whole other person to feel exactly the same thing that I did? And how would I know if she did? I wouldn’t know how to precisely articulate the difference between what I felt for Amaranth, what I felt for Steff, and what I felt for Ian.

I mean, I could throw out a lot of adjectives and analogies and make comparisons and stuff, but it would be like saying that somebody was tall, skinny, and with short red hair. A hundred people could hear that description and come up with a completely different mental image.
Even if I described what I felt about Steff to Amaranth and she nodded and said, “Yep, I feel that, too,” there wouldn’t be any way of knowing if it was really the same.

Amaranth was safety… Steff was excitement… Ian was comfort. That was an oversimplification, of course, because Amaranth did test my boundaries and she sure as hell excited me. None of them were all one thing or another, and they all had things in common. The way I felt lovingly enveloped in Amaranth’s rules, though, was completely different from the scary thrill I got when I was in Steff’s power, or the feeling of… rightness… I got when I put myself beneath Ian.

It felt so good to kneel on the floor in front of him… whether sexually or just sitting there. It felt so right when he put his hands on me, when he put that commanding tone in his voice.

Was that the most healthy basis for a relationship? Probably not. But I didn’t care. It felt good, and we both enjoyed it… and the fact that he questioned himself every step of the way made me feel better about it. He knew there were lines that weren’t ever meant to be crossed, even if he was groping his way around them.

When a knock on the door interrupted my thoughts, I jumped in surprise… and then felt monumentally stupid, because of course that’s what I’d been waiting for. I ran over to the door and twisted the knob to unlock it.

“Hi, sweetie!” I said, flinging the door open. I felt stupid as the word left my mouth. Sweetie? Amaranth and Steff could get away with calling everybody “honey” or “sweetie.” I couldn’t pull it off even if I was talking to my own boyfriend… which, it turned out, I wasn’t.

“Hello, Miss Mackenzie,” Sooni replied.

She was in an even tinier bikini than the one she’d worn before. Seriously, I thought she was naked for a second. It was very obvious that whatever alchemical compound she used for her tan was an “all-over” application. I caught a subtle whiff of something caustic, and wondered if she’d just applied the stuff so her silky smooth skin would be evenly bronzed when she went to the pool.

“Sooni,” I said, nonplussed.

“Come swimming,” she said. She didn’t make it an invitation, a question, or a command. She said it as a simple declarative statement, with no special emphasis. You will come swimming. I know this. It will happen.

“Sooni… I don’t have a suit,” I said, trying to match her tone and expression, though I think my exasperation must have leaked through at least a little bit. I really wanted to have one encounter with Sooni that didn’t end in embarrassment for me or insane flouncing from her. “You know I don’t have a suit.”

“You can have my old one,” she said.

“It’s not going to fit me,” I said.

“So, you can take one of Kai’s,” she said. Her composure cracked as she said this. She grimaced, baring her teeth at the corners of her mouth.

“Sooni, I have a date with Ian… who will be here any minute.”

“You don’t even like boys,” she said.

“I like him,” I said.

She didn’t have an immediate retort for this, and so she stood staring at me for several seconds before she screamed, “You probably don’t even know how to swim,” then turned abruptly and disappeared back into her room.

She was actually probably right about that. I closed my door and locked it, then settled down on my desk chair to wait.

The next time there was a knock on the door, I looked through the peephole to make sure it really was Ian before I opened it.

“Hey,” he said, giving me a big smile.

“Get in,” I said, pulling on his arm.

Nice greeting,” he said. I closed and re-locked the door as soon as he was inside.

“I’m trying to avoid the craziness across the hall,” I said.

“What’s wrong?”

“She wants me to go swimming with her,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows.

“Right now,” I said. “And any other time she happens to feel like squeezing herself into an itty bitty thong and an invisible bikini.”

“Okay, you’re busy now,” Ian said. “And she’s a couple bricks shy of… a brick. But would hanging out with her in a tiny little swimsuit be a horrible hardship?”

“Ian, she’s awful,” I said.

“Okay, yeah, she is,” he said.

“If I wanted to look at somebody’s tits hanging out of a swimsuit… well, I’ve got Amaranth, so I don’t even have to bother with the swimsuit,” I said. “I don’t like Sooni, and I certainly don’t need to be hanging around her.”

“Okay,” he said, holding up his hands. “I believe you.”

“After our date Friday night and maybe Saturday morning, I don’t want anything to do with her,” I said.

“I believe you a little less,” he said. “But I don’t want to fight about this.”

He cupped my chin in his hand and turned my face upwards, leaning in for a kiss. I closed my eyes. All that touch-up for nothing. I fought the urge to giggle, and then his lips were on mine.

My eyes were still closed, and I drank him in… the feeling of his hands running over my back, his lips moving against mine, his body pressing up against mine… the feel… the closeness… the scent of him.

Human.

Ian.

Man.

Of course, there was the little problem of protection. I probably didn’t have to worry about disease, but Ian might, and pregnancy was a big no-no for me. No more babies would come into the world with cursed blood because of me. But the cheapest effective contraceptive magic used ice magic to douse the spark of life, and ice magic didn’t get along with me.

Still, with Ian pressed so close up against me, it really seemed like a little discomfort… a little risk… might be worth it.

“You know… if you wanted to have a little fun instead of hurrying off,” I said, “we probably could use a regular strength ring. It’s a college campus. There shouldn’t be any problem finding a pack.”

He shook his head.

“No way,” he said. “They’ve got the same warning on them as the extra strength ones. You had a bad enough reaction the first time. Do you really want to push your luck by using them again?”

“The big one didn’t have any lingering side effects after I wore it all night,” I said, leaning into him. I sounded a little whiny even to myself, but it didn’t seem like a bad whine. “Even if I have a worse reaction…”

“That was an emergency,” he said. “Let’s not get cocky.”

I sighed. He was being sensible. I hated that. I wanted him so badly and I hated that he was being so sensible, since that meant I couldn’t have him.

The fact was, he was right. If rings of protection were bad for those with my elemental affinities, and we’d got away with using them not once but twice… and the second time for something way outside their intended purpose… there was a definite risk we’d get smacked righteously down if we tried again. It was like the helpful store clerk who would sometimes make an exception for you if you were a good customer… until the day you abused the store’s generosity and they changed the whole policy on you.

On the other hand, it was just possible that the shocking coldness and brief discomfort was the only effect the regular rings were supposed to have on me… but… would a few moments of pleasure with Ian be worth finding out otherwise? Probably not.

“Well, it’s not like there aren’t other things we can do,” giving him what I hope is a really sexy look.

He actually rocked back a step. It was hard to tell if I’d succeeded or not… though the distraught and confused look on my face made him blush and look down.

So, apparently, I was maybe either sexy or frightening when I tried to be sexy, but I was definitely sexy when I was definitely not trying to be. There was a lesson in there. I’d try to remember it, but “lessons” seemed to be my third weakness, behind divine power and elemental ice.

“Um… can we maybe just go to the dance?” he asked quietly. “For now?”

“Don’t you want…?”

“I can get that any time,” he said. “But this is our date.”

“Okay,” I said. My cheeks flushed with heat. I’d been looking forward to this dance as much as he had. Fooling around was something we could do any time, barring roommate-related logistical problems. This was supposed to be special. I turned and reached towards the curtained bed. “Let me just get my paddle.”

“Um… could you maybe leave that here tonight?” Ian asked.

I stopped and turned back to face him.

“Well, Amaranth says I’m supposed to…”

“You’re with me tonight,” he said. “Not Amaranth.”

“It’s an order,” I said, rooted to the spot by indecision. “I don’t really have a choice.”

“I don’t want to have to order you to leave it,” he said.

I felt trapped. I wasn’t sure whether an order from him should cancel out, even in the short term, a standing order from Amaranth. What were the rules for this sort of thing?

Were there rules?

I tried to imagine how Steff or Amaranth would have handled this. Amaranth couldn’t really disapprove of anything I did that made Ian happy. I might still get punished for breaking her rule, but she’d understand why I did it. Steff… what would Steff say?

Probably that there weren’t any rules for relationships except the ones we made up for ourselves. The problem was, we hadn’t made any rules to cover things like this. Ian could order me to do something if he wanted to, but could he override Amaranth? And did him letting his wishes be known without making it an order count?

I had the feeling that Amaranth and Steff would both say, in the end, that it came down to me, but since I couldn’t make up my mind that didn’t help at all.

“If you’d rather take it…” Ian said.

Maybe I was slow, but all of a sudden it clicked into place what he was actually asking of me, and why. It wasn’t just the paddle he wanted me to leave up on the wall. It was all of this… the rules and orders and interrelationships… all the things that turned a simple date into a labyrinth full of deadly traps and monsters.

I was with Ian tonight. Ian, my boyfriend… Ian, who was unmistakably Man, but not anybody’s master.

“No, you’re right,” I told him. “I’m with you.”

We kissed again, with more gentleness but with no less meaning. There was a knock on the door. Without being asked, Ian tiptoed up to the door and peered out.

He turned back towards me, looking confused.

“Who is it?” I mouthed.

He shrugged. There were probably girls on my floor that he didn’t know, but I couldn’t imagine why any of them would be knocking on my door.

“Mack?” Oru said, and I understood. Unless she was standing way back, she probably hadn’t been visible. “Are you about ready to go?”

“Yeah!” I called back. “We’ll be out in a minute.” Ian still looked confused. “Remember when Oru asked us if we wanted to go over with Moeli?”

“Um, not really,” he said. “Oh, is she the goblin?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I do remember that,” he said. “Who’s Moeli?”

“The guy she likes,” I said.

“Well, we probably shouldn’t keep them waiting,” Ian said.

“Yeah, just let me get my pitchfork,” I said, stooping down by the bed.

“Um, do you actually need it?” he asked.

“Huh?”

“Don’t you have that exemption?” he said.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. Why had I gone for the pitchfork, if I didn’t need it? “Well, it’s dark already, and it’s going to be late when we head back,” I reasoned as I reached under the bed and pulled it out. “I just want to be ready. I’m sure they’ll have a coat check I can leave it at, once we get there.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “You’ll probably want an actual coat, too. It’s really pretty chilly out tonight. I really hope you’ll be warm enough on the walk over.”

“Oh, right!” I said. I’d completely forgotten about that. I grabbed my brand-new, super-warm coat out of the closet and struggled into it, moving the fork from hand to hand. Once I had it on, I remembered that Ian hadn’t seen my coat before. “What do you think?” I asked Ian, turning around for his approval.

“I hope you’re right about that coat check,” he said.


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12 Responses to “248: The Intricate Dance”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Yes, very hot, beautiful demon girl in cute outfit all made up for making out hanging on the arm of the big stud. AND she’s hauling around a bad ass cursed pitchfork slung over her shoulder.

    Nope, no stereotyping here, no siree bob.{whistle up & down}

    Current score: 0
  2. MadnessMaiden says:

    See, as this goes on, I have more and more trouble understanding why Mack likes Ian. In the beginning, it was definitely a situation where she didn’t want to be considered a lesbian, but now? I honestly don’t know. She calls him her “rock”, but I have yet to see why. This is the first chapter that I can think about where they’re not bickering. For the most part, the moments where they are getting along are usually glossed over. I think the reason is that their arguments are the most interesting thing about their relationship, which is…well, a problem. Not only that, but Ian’s insecurities are annoying. Like the paddle thing–he should have known he was making her choose, but instead, he was stuck on what he wanted.

    This rant went on for longer than was intended. I can’t help it though! I really don’t like Ian. >.<

    Current score: 3
  3. MackSffrs says:

    Of course he was making her choose, the question maybe then is what he “wanted” from her leaving the paddle, besides maybe the aesthetic part. Maybe he wanted to leave the symbol of her rules behind, maybe he wanted a “normal” dance.
    As for why he is her rock, the whole drunk scene (208 & 209) really set him up as her rock as much as Victor is for Steff.

    ““You want to fight, bitch?” he asked, his voice gone husky.
    “I’ll kick your ass,” I told him again.
    He twisted my hair and then shoved me sideways and let go. My face hit the wall. Bright spots filled my vision and the world lurched funnily while I fell backwards onto the floor.
    “I can’t fuck around with you, Mackenzie,” he said. “I love you, but I can’t. If you ever take a swing at me, I’ll sign your ass into the wall and then put you down hard, whether I think you’re going to connect or not. I can’t afford to take the chance.””(208)
    Also the bit in 209 where he saves Two’s neck.

    Current score: 1
  4. Erm says:

    Go on Mack, leave your pitchfork at the coat check. Nothing wrong with letting an infernal weapon lie around without supervision…

    Current score: 5
    • Anon says:

      Don’t worry. Even if she hadn’t remembered to bring it, the pitchfork would have been right there in the coat closet at the dance when she needed it! It’s just that dependable!

      Current score: 7
  5. Maesenko says:

    I thought I had noticed it before, but it definitely clicked for me while reading that “take-or-leave-the-paddle” part:

    Mack and Two are changing mental states somewhat. Two is becoming more free from rules through clever wording and interpretation, while Mackenzie is picking up rules, limitations, and orders regularly and becoming more beholden to them.

    I only wonder if Mackenzie will truly realize this as well…

    Current score: 1
    • WsntHere says:

      Mackenzie and Two look like different sides of the same coin to me.

      Two started with a basic set of operating and safety rules, with an overwhelming desire to follow orders hardwired in. Mackenzie and company have been adding new rules as a framework for her work around her basic reason for existence. She had to have orders to learn what she wants for herself.

      Mackenzie was a frightened, dangerous animal just waiting to blow. She had a horrible childhood and no ego at all. Her friends and the rules they set, primarily Amaranth, have set up a framework that actually allows her to interact with the world around her without exploding or crawling into a deep, dark hole never to see daylight again.

      Both characters are developing decent personalities that would never have emerged with help and guidance. I expect they will both be strong, indepedant people with bright futures ahead when this story ends.

      Current score: 5
  6. JTTbear says:

    I don’t know how much of a choice she had about taking the pitchfork. It was making its presence hard too miss. Remember she did not pick it up after Mixed Melee when she took Steff to the healers’. Yet in this chapter it was under her bed, and the right after that it was in her closet. I think the pitchfork has chosen to stay close to her.

    Current score: 0
  7. Duke says:

    The pitchfork could just be attracted to her infernal energies. It doesn’t seem to have any form of intelligence (i.e. The Luggage from PTerry’s Discworld).

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      Cursed items are generally supposed to be very difficult to get rid of. It probably has very little to do with *Mack* being infernal and just everything to do with the fact that it’s her weapon now and it’s cursed. For wearable items, for instance, it’s often declared that you can’t remove them at all if they’re cursed, etc.

      Current score: 0
  8. C says:

    I think it was remarked a couple of chapters back that cursed weapons from this genre is usually majorly BAD. So even though the pitchfork itself might not be sentient, the intentions of the Infernal enchantment could go both ways at this point.

    Current score: 0
    • Anon says:

      One of the classic features of most cursed pieces of equipment is that they make you keep using them, and are difficult to remove without magical assistance. Cursed armor or rings just won’t come off until you’re dead, every pokeball you throw contains the psyduck, etc. With weapons and other things that are simply held, it usually takes the form of a weak mental compulsion paired with an uncanny ability to be right at hand, no matter what measures you’ve taken to throw it away, lock it up, or destroy it.

      If you’re immune to the primary negative effects of the curse, and you don’t have a significantly better alternative, this becomes very convenient because you’re never really unarmed.

      The clever cursed items will fail in their following effects at the perfect moment. Or better yet, make you just think you’re immune.

      Current score: 0