37: Of Love And Lunch

on July 24, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which Cake Is Coveted

I spent the breakfast period curled silently against Amaranth on my own bed, then made it through my thaumatology class with very little to show for it. I couldn’t tell you one thing that was discussed in it… I probably should’ve taken Professor Goldman at his word and gone back to bed.

To my surprise, Two was waiting for me when I got out of class.

“Hi, Mack,” she said as I approached.

“Do you need help?” I asked her. I’d told her to ask for clarification as needed… I had the horrible image of her running into a problem and leaving class to find me.

“No,” she said.

“Uh… then what are you doing here?” I asked, knowing she wouldn’t volunteer more information than I’d asked for.

“I am supposed to walk to lunch with you,” she said.

“Did Amaranth send you?” I asked her.

“Yes,” Two said.

Well, that explained the greeting, anyway.

“Okay, well… let’s go,” I said.

We headed out into the bright sunlight, moving in the direction of the pent and the student union. We were just passing the fountain when someone yelled, “Hey!” I didn’t take much notice, until the same person yelled, “Hey, Mackenzie!” The voice was familiar… and young and masculine, which really narrowed it down.

I stopped… Two stopped, when I did… and looked around. Ian Mason was running to catch up to us, though he stopped a good twelve feet away and looked like he was ready to bolt.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I just… well, I wanted to say I’m… sorry for all that stuff I said,” he said. He was avoiding looking directly at me. His hands were up in front of him. I’d seen that stance before… I figured he was ready to give me the Arms of Khersis if I came closer. “In class, I mean,” he added, as if that needed clarification. “I… well, I wouldn’t have come on like that if I’d known what you were.”

“Yeah, well, now you do,” I said darkly. “Thanks so much for…”

“I didn’t mean that you’re a demon!” he said. “I just meant I didn’t know you were a lesbian… apparently, I’m the only person on campus who didn’t know you’re Puddy’s girlfriend.”

I rolled my eyes. I didn’t bother to ask how he knew who Puddy was. She was the sort of person who infamy would cling to.

“Two, would you please tell this guy I’m not a lesbian,” I said. I felt cheap doing this. Two, of course, had no actual knowledge of my sexual preferences, but would agree with anything I told her to agree with.

That was the theory, anyway.

“I have been instructed not to aid you in your attempts at self-deception,” Two said, her lip trembling a bit, as it often did when she was forced to prioritize conflicting commands. The prior command won out, but it cost her something to have to disobey me.

“It’s okay. Was this instruction from Amaranth?” I guessed.

Two nodded.

“Who’s Amaranth?” Ian asked.

“Mack’s lover,” Two said, as he was turned more towards–and thus arguably addressing–her. “She is nice.”

“Two, Amaranth is not my lover!” I said.

“I am sorry. I must not understand the term,” she said quickly. “I thought it meant sexual partner or person to whom one is romantically attached, either of which seem to be…”

“Anyway, what did you say about Amaranth?” I asked. My brain had just caught up with the rest of what Two had said.

“That she is your lover,” Two said. “And that she is nice.”

“I thought Puddy was your lover,” Ian said, confused. I ignored him.

“Did you have a standing order to say that?” I asked Two, amazed that she’d rendered an opinion about somebody. I instantly regretted it, as Two bit her lip and began to shake all over.

“No!” she wailed. “I… I… I did not understand the question!”

“It’s okay, Two,” I said. “You’re allowed to have opinions.”

“I want to do what I’m told!” she cried, turning away and doubling almost all the way over with huge, body-wracking sobs. “I want to do what I’m told!”

People were stopping, pointing and staring at us. I felt like I was moments away from pitching a fit of my own.

“Two!” I said sharply. “I order you to be calm!”

Instantly, she went still, though she remained doubled over.

“Look, I don’t mean to interrupt your little… S&M games…” Ian said.

“She’s a golem!” I said. “She’s got… freedom issues.”

“Okay, whatever you say,” Ian said, holding up his hands and taking a step back. “I just… there was something else I wanted to tell you.”

“What?” I asked.

“Yesterday, when I went to the healing center, they seemed really interested in the fact that I’d burned my hand,” he said. “Or rather, that my hand was burned. It took like ten seconds to heal, but they wanted me to wait for some ‘follow-up questions’, and brought in this woman who obviously wasn’t a healer. She asked me who did it… not how it happened, but who did it.”

“They’re not supposed to ask anything,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “There was a cat… thing… with a broken leg, and a couple guys with very obvious stab wounds in there, and the healers just touched their wounds and sent them away.”

“So what did you tell her?” I asked.

“I told her I had an accident in my elemental invocation class,” he said. “I mean, that’s close enough to the truth, right? She seemed really disappointed and kept asking me if I was sure that was what had happened… the university does know what you are, right?”

“I had to fill out an admissions form like everybody else,” I said.

“Oh. I thought maybe you had lied on it,” he said. “Well, anyway, it really seemed like she was digging for something, and given… well… um… I just thought you should know.”

“You won’t stand within ten feet of me or look at me, but you want to help me,” I said.

“It makes me mad seeing the people who make the rules twisting or ignoring them when it suits them,” Ian said. “But I’m not stupid… I know you’ve got to kill people.”

“I don’t!” I said. “I’ve never so much as hurt another human being… before you, I mean.”

“Yeah, well, obviously you have to eat,” he said.

“Well, I don’t need to kill people to feed,” I said huffily, my ire overwhelming my normal reluctance to speak about such things, “and anyway, unless you’re a virgin you wouldn’t be in any danger from me.”

“Oh!” he said. “Well… um… then I’m really not. In danger, I mean. Really.”

“I notice you’re not coming any closer,” I said with a wry smile.

“Well, demons lie about these things,” he said.

“I’m half-human,” I said.

“Humans lie, too.”

“I bet they do,” I said, turning to go. “C’mon, Two.”

“Wait!” Ian said. I stopped, but didn’t turn to face him. “Just one thing… sort of, for the record… I might have made an ass of myself when I found out you were in Harlowe, but… I was hitting on you before that.”

I had to think about that. He’d talked to me before the professor had inadvertently outed me as non-human, and had told me that I had a pretty name. It was hard to think of that in terms of a guy coming onto someone, especially compared to what he’d said after that… but “I like your name.” was far closer to the sort of thing I’d always wanted to hear from guys than “I hear girls from your dorm take it up the ass.” was.

“Why are you pointing that out?” I asked as I turned towards him. I felt a little bit suspicious, though I wasn’t sure of what.

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “I guess if I’m going to be thought of as a jerk, I’d like it to be for the right reasons. Um… are you still in that class?”

“Yeah,” I said. “But I’m sure Bohd won’t mind if you want to move tables.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay. I guess… I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“I guess so,” I said. “Come along, Two.”

Amaranth was waiting for us on the steps up to the dining hall, inside the student union.

“She found you!” she said. “Very good job, Two,” she said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Hold her hand when you walk with her,” she told me, stroking Two’s wispy blonde hair. “I think she likes it.”

I don’t know how Amaranth would have been able to tell that. Two’s face was as expressionless as ever. Usually, the only emotions she showed were distress and panic over not knowing what to do.

“Why’d you send her to find me, anyway?” I asked Amaranth.

“It seemed like a good way of making sure you both got here,” she said. “I figured you might just skip lunch otherwise, and I thought it would be better for you to be surrounded by friends, even if you don’t have to eat.”

Two broke off to get her food as soon as we made it inside the cafeteria. I worried that she seemed to show more initiative about food than anything else… but then, I hadn’t really had time to work out any more broad commands to give her about other parts of her life.

Amaranth’s mention of being “surrounded by friends” seemed a little premature… only Puddy was waiting at our usual table. Celia was sitting with Shiel, the kobold, and Oru the goblin. Belinda was sitting with a bunch of skirmishers. Barley was thankfully nowhere to be seen.

I’d expected Amaranth to go for the food, but she took me by the hand and made a beeline for the table.

“There’s the hero!” Amaranth said, throwing her arms around Puddy. Puddy gave her a big kiss and squeezed her bare breast with what had to be painful enthusiasm. My insides lurched. Seeing Puddy with her hands on Amaranth gave me a sick feeling. I knew I didn’t own Amaranth, but this was different from the little flutters of jealousy I’d been experiencing when Amaranth gave or received attention from another woman.

Was it because Puddy was my best friend? I wasn’t sure. I just knew I didn’t like seeing her touching Amaranth.

Amaranth broke away from the clench soon enough, though, and then sat down, pulling me towards her and drawing me onto her lap. I immediately felt tingly, self-conscious… it was impossible to sit on Amaranth’s lap and not be intensely aware of the nudity of her body… but I preferred her lap to Puddy’s. I knew Puddy would have wanted me to sit with her if Amaranth hadn’t claimed me first. I thought she might speak up, anyway. I could feel her eyes crawling over us, but she said nothing.

“So, where’s Mariel?” Amaranth asked.

“Resting,” Puddy said. “I guess Mack told you what happened?” She looked at me when she said this. Maybe it was my imagination, but there was almost an accusation in her eyes.

“She did,” Amaranth said, nodding emphatically. “I’m trying to convince her to schedule an appointment at the healing center to talk to somebody about it.”

“Oh, that would be a bad idea,” Puddy said dourly. “Why do you want her talking to some counselor when she’s got friends she can confide in?”

“Well, it seems to me that… in a case like this… love is maybe not quite as good as experience,” Amaranth said, though it sounded like it was painful for her to admit that.

“We don’t want to drag a bunch of technical-headed kooks into this,” Puddy said disdainfully. “I’ve dealt with all kinds of therapists and counselors, and they never help.”

“I know the mental healing profession isn’t as firmly… magically grounded… as physical healing,” Amaranth said. “But they do some good for people.”

“Yeah, okay, they’re fine for dealing with some stuff, but you go in talking about anything having to do with sex and they’ll be all over you. They’re just obsessed with it… and they won’t be satisfied hearing about one little attempted rape. And Mack’s so fragile, they could get her to agree with anything… before we even knew what was happening, she’d be accusing everybody… parents, teachers, friends… of molesting her, or something.”

“I don’t think it would be like that,” Amaranth said. I could hear the frown in her voice.

“Trust me, I’ve got experience here,” Puddy said. “And come on, Mack… you know how much sex stuff upsets you sometimes… do you really want to have to talk to a total stranger about it?”

Considering that I wasn’t really comfortable even having it discussed by my closest friends, I couldn’t really say that I did. I shook my head. Amaranth made a little noise of protest.

“You don’t think the first thing a counselor will do is tell Mack to report it?” Puddy asked her. “Barley made a big mistake, but if Mack makes an official complaint, it won’t end well for anybody.”

“I guess you’re right,” Amaranth said doubtfully. “Well, anyway, I’m just glad you were there… and I want you to know, I’d be more than willing to take Barley’s place in your threesomes, when my schedule allows.”

My stomach did a flip-flop at Amaranth’s offer, but luckily, Puddy wasn’t biting.

“No offense, but I’d sooner fuck Two,” Puddy said. “I like a little challenge in nailing someone.”

“Oh, okay!” Amaranth said brightly, not the least bit offended at Puddy’s analysis. “I just thought I’d offer.”

“Anyway, I don’t think Barley’s a lost cause,” Puddy said. “I think if she has a day or two to think about what she did and everything’ll be back to normal.”

“I’d like to think that we can all forgive her,” Amaranth said, “but I think ‘back to normal’ might be oversimplifying things. Something like this can have profound emotional effects on the victim… or so I’ve read, anyway. I’ll admit, the idea of sex having consequences is still hard to wrap my mind around.”

“Yeah, well, Barley better wrap her head around it,” Puddy said. “I’ll break every bone in her fucking body if she touches Mack out of turn again.”

“Would you like someone to practice on?” Amaranth said. “We have very similar bodies.”

“Uh, no thanks,” Puddy said, sounding disquieted. I felt the same way.

“Hey, everybody! Look who I ran into at the dessert island?” Steff said, coming to the table with a sandwich on a plate, Two in tow. She gently steered the golem girl towards the chair beside Amaranth and me, and then sat down on the bench across from her. “She looked like somebody killed her familiar… didn’t stop the little pseudowench from getting the last piece of double chocolate cake, though.”

Steff looked longingly at Two’s tray. Two immediately lifted the small plate with the cake up and held it there, as if anticipating an order.

“Whoa, honey,” Steff said, pushing Two’s hands gently down. “You got it fair and square.”

“Only because they didn’t have banana pudding,” Two said quietly, looking down at her tray.

“Oh, would you rather have had banana pudding?” Amaranth asked excitedly. “That’s wonderful! I mean, not that they didn’t have any… but that you… I mean, we could get some mix and make it for you, if you wanted.”

“I… I want… I want to do what I’m told,” Two said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to call attention to her progress,” I said to Amaranth. “You have to kind of let her go at her own pace. Um… anyway… aren’t you going to get any food yourself?”

“I got what I want right here,” Amaranth responded, giving me a little squeeze around the waist. “I’ll get a bowl of cereal from the corner store later on.”

“You have to eat,” I said.

She laughed. “I’m not going to starve to death,” she said. “And you need comfort.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I knew Amaranth was a lot physically weaker than me, and I had a feeling she wouldn’t take a violent action to save herself, much less somebody else… but I felt about a hundred times safer in her arms.

“Hey, anyway… do you guys know what’s up with Barley?” Steff asked.

“Oh, have you seen her?” Amaranth asked. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she came over last night… she ranted a lot, drank a bunch of Viktor’s beer,” Steff said. “She said I should ask Mack what it was about, before she passed out. You didn’t do or say something to her?” she asked me.

“Uh…” I said, not sure how to answer that.

“I don’t think we need to go spreading this around,” Puddy said to me. “It’s your business, Mack, not anybody else’s.”

“Not that I disagree,” Amaranth said, “but Steff will have a better perspective on this than…”

“Let’s talk about something else,” I said. I felt like Amaranth was probably right, but I really wasn’t ready to share my embarrassment with somebody else, especially somebody I knew as little about as I did Steff. That, and there was no need for me to disagree with Puddy to her face.

For a while, nobody said anything, though Puddy kind of glared at Amaranth. I couldn’t see her face, but I imagine she was just smiling serenely back. I really hoped she wouldn’t push Puddy too far. I wasn’t even sure what I meant by that, even as I thought it.

“Okay… well,” Steff finally said. “Viktor wants to start fucking this little bardic wench in his music composition class, but she’s apparently got this hang-up about guys who fuck more than one person…”

More sex talk was exactly the last thing I wanted to hear, but I was able to close my eyes and tune it out, reveling in the warmth and closeness of Amaranth, enjoying the sound of her voice even as I did my best to ignore her words.

Two had thought Amaranth was my lover… she really wasn’t, but I did love her.

Whatever that meant.


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4 Responses to “37: Of Love And Lunch”

  1. Shrikethrush says:

    Really? Zero comments on this one?

    I think it’s important that there are specific abuse patterns being called out here. Making it the victim’s responsibility to keep their own abuse under wraps is one of the big ones, and the other is isolating the victim from outside help.

    Current score: 3
  2. Ciss says:

    Yeah, Puddy is so bad, and it is so hard to imagine that no one calls her out on it! On the other hand, that’s how it happe3ns in real life. *sob*

    Current score: 2
  3. Kanta says:

    Puddy is a rapist, Barley is a rapist, Amaranth is (weirdly) naive to the point where it’s a danger to everyone around her, Steff thinks preferences about sex that are different than hers are, “Hang up[s],” but is otherwise a cool person, Celia is racist, but at least knows what’s going on and isn’t afraid to talk about the elephant in the room, Ian is a well-meaning, bad-mannered idiot, and Two keeps on being awesome.

    Current score: 6
  4. Lythar says:

    Man, reading back, I forgot just how BLATANT the abuse was in the beginning of the story…

    Current score: 2