114: Shared Pain

on December 10, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Offers Steff her Hand And Ends Up In Hot Water

I limped with only a little difficulty back to Harlowe. I got more than even my usual share of curious glances and even outright stares. I don’t think I could have been any happier to run into Amaranth and Steff in the stairwell. They’d come looking for me, knowing that my last class was over.

“What happened to you?” they both asked at the same time.

“Belinda did,” I said. “Trying to make good her threats. I’d kind of hoped she’d given up or forgotten… but I guess she was just waiting for the student elections.”

“Oh, are you okay?” Amaranth asked.

I nodded.

“I didn’t hurt her,” I said. “I didn’t have to.”

“I will,” Steff said darkly.

I shook my head.

“Please, don’t,” I said. “It’s over and done with.”

“Well, let’s get you upstairs, anyway,” Steff said. “Put your arm on my shoulder, hon.”

They both supported me the rest of the way to my room… Steff more so than Amaranth, who didn’t seem to know how to actually help but felt a need to be included. The worry and concern for me etched on her face was a little like seeing her in physical pain.

Sooni was lurking in the doorway of her room when we got there.

“You have been out brawling?” she asked. “Or getting dates?”

“Oh, go choke on a furry cat muff,” Steff said.

Sooni’s bronze skin flushed… well, copperish. Her eyes narrowed, her nostrils flared, and at first I thought she was smiling, but then I realized the corners of her mouth were pulling back in a feral snarl, before she disappeared behind her closed door.

“That was uncalled for,” Amaranth said as the three of us filed sideways a little clumsily through my door.

“It wasn’t nice,” Steff said. “But it was very much called for. I’ll have that fucking tail for a wrap if she comes near our Mack.”

“Steff, chill,” I said. “She’s not going to attack me. Not physically.”

“I’m sorry,” Steff said darkly. “I just feel a serious need to hurt somebody right now. I missed my shot at Belinda…”

“Let’s get Mack off her feet,” Amaranth said soothingly. “Do you want on the bed, honey?”

“The chair’s fine,” I said, and I leaned on Steff while she pulled it out for me.

“What all’s hurt?” Steff asked.

“My back, my head… especially my head, my ankle… I probably wouldn’t have been able to walk on it if I hadn’t found out what a real hurt ankle feels like when I tripped over a protection circle the other day,” I said.

“Oh, honey, what were you doing messing around with nasty white magic shit like that?” Steff asked.

“I was down in the summoning room, trying to figure out why Two had called up a demon,” I said.

“She what?” Steff asked.

“What?” Amaranth said. “She wasn’t supposed to tell you!”

We both turned to look at her. Steff’s face had become cold and blank.

“She didn’t,” I said. “But I’m not stupid… anyway, you said Two said it was a secret.”

“Well, she did!” Amaranth said, defensively. Then, a little less confidently, “Because I told her to… but Mack, baby, I only did it because I knew you’d blame yourself if you knew she got hurt investigating demons.”

“Amy, how could you?” Steff asked. “After last time…”

“Well… nothing really bad happened last time,” Amaranth said, seeming to shrink back in on herself. “So I thought that… maybe… in a way… it had kind of worked, after all?”

“Amaranth, I can’t be in a relationship with somebody who lies to me,” I said. I knew before I saw her face twist into an expression of inexpressible grief that I’d worded that poorly. “So you need to stop,” I added quickly.

“Okay, but technically, I didn’t… um… I mean…” she said, and I could see her usual cheerful confidence rising back up and then fade quickly. “I’m sorry, baby. You’re right. I know better. I do.”

“Maybe if you’d remember that instead of always trying to know best,” Steff said. I watched her clench her fists and go rigid, her fingernails digging painfully into the flesh of her palms. “Ooh! You can be so frustrating…”

She kicked the wall, hard enough that it had to have hurt, though she didn’t show any sign of it.

“I know,” Amaranth said, and started to turn away from us.

“It’s okay,” I said, rising and embracing her.

She returned the embrace, clinging to me gratefully… a little too gratefully. Ouch.

“Oh, careful!” I said, wincing. “I got slammed pretty hard against a wall.”

“Poor baby,” Amaranth cooed, and she guided us over to the bed, settling herself down on the edge and pulling me into her lap. Steff dragged my desk chair over and turned it around backwards, sitting on it with her legs splayed around the back and her hands on top of the upright.

Some combination of the posture, the fact that she was sitting on a lower level than us, and the perpetual look of “want” in her eyes gave her an air of supplication that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. I didn’t like being above her. I didn’t like her looking up at me, up to me.

“Anyway,” I said, not wanting to lapse into silence on that rather awkward thought. I held up my hand, chuckling ruefully. There was no signs of damage, but the pain in the joints made it most comfortable to keep my fingers half-bent. “I took vengeance upon the wall that did it.”

“Oh, honey, let me see that,” Steff said and reached up to grab my faux-injured hand. She manipulated one of the fingers a bit roughly. “Does it hurt when I do this?”

“Ow… it does!” I said, the end of “does” becoming a bit of a whimper as she squeezed less-than-gently. I pulled my hand away from her. “But… it’s not broken,” I said, rubbing it with my left hand. “Just sore.”

“Oh, I know,” Steff said, grinning unapologetically. “I just wanted to… well…”

I sighed. I’d had plenty of pain the last few days, but on the other hand, a little more wouldn’t kill me and it wouldn’t do me any harm. I held out my hand to her.

“Only… not so hard, okay?” I asked.

Steff nodded, looking at my proffered digits as if they were a gift from on high… an image that once more gave me a twinge of discomfort. She took my hand gently in both of hers and lowered her head over it to bestow a kiss, then began to knead and probe as if she were giving me a vigorous and slightly unskillfull hand massage.

Honestly, it might have felt pleasant if my hand hadn’t hurt to begin with… and as it was, the spikes–well, maybe not exactly spikes so much as long, rolling hills–of pain at least distracted me from the ache in my head and ankle, and the enraptured look on Steff’s face was almost worth it.

She was looking at me avidly, reading every change in my face, every twitch, every reaction, like she would immerse herself in my pain if she could, luxuriate in it. It was a little bit frightening to realize that somebody could get such pure joy out of hurting others… hurting me… but I’d given my hand to her and I didn’t take it back. I was starting to remember how it had felt when she had pinned me down by my wrists and writhed against me, even on top of our clothing.

The rhythm of pain she inflicted began to remind me of the way she’d thrust… even more so as it proceeded to increase in both intensity and frequency. My eyes closed, and I imagined myself floating on my back in the water, riding a series of swells. I’d never been in the ocean, but I had some memories of lying on a raft in a lake rocked by the wake of self-propelled boats.

I hadn’t been much for swimming, but I’d enjoyed the sensation.

As Steff kind of brought the whole thing to a sort of a climax, I bit my lip to keep from crying out, then stopped to keep from biting through my lip. My already-abused back arched painfully, but after wrenching that one uncontrolled scream from me, Steff relented and then she really was massaging my hand, with all the nimbleness her elven heritage had given her.

My breathing slowed. The lake calmed, and I was just floating. The soreness in my hand had changed, becoming more like the not-entirely-unpleasant after effect of a moderately gentle spanking. The rest of my pain had somehow diminished in importance, if not severity.

My eyes opened, and met Steff’s. She looked oddly satisfied, yet hungrier than ever, as she brought my hand to her lips again and breathed, with a whisper that traveled like a soft breeze up the length of my arm, in a voice that existed only for me, “Slut.”

I shivered.

“Thank you,” I said as she released my hand.

“That was nice,” Amaranth said quietly, and it was only then that I realized she had the fingers of one hand playing over my breast and the other on my thigh. Actually, I’d almost forgotten that she was there after I closed my eyes. That sounds weird, considering I was sitting on her very nude lap, but she had become a warm, comforting presence… a presence without which I probably wouldn’t have been able to entrust myself to Steff. She’d facilitated the experience, but not been a part of it… though she evidently had enjoyed it all the same.

“You can keep going,” I said to Steff.

She shook her head.

“That was enough for now. I’m supposed to be working on self-denial,” she said. “Viktor thinks you might be good for me, there.”

“How?” I asked.

“Because I didn’t lose interest when you said we should wait,” Steff said.

Nobody said anything for a while. Amaranth stroked my hair and played somewhat absently with my breast. I think it was her version of mindless fidgeting. I really didn’t mind.

“So what now?” Amaranth asked. “Do you want to pursue any action against Belinda? There is a zero tolerance policy for student-on-student violence.”

Steff gave a little laugh at this.

“Well, there is,” Amaranth said, with a very Two-like sense of injury at the impugning of The Rules.

“I hate to admit it… but what I’m most concerned about now is what this will do for her voting. She didn’t beat me,” I said. “But she didn’t acknowledge that I won.”

“The ogre culture’s not big on the concept of ‘tie’,” Steff asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she skips the vote entirely… and tries to get a definitive answer later, when she’s had a chance to lick her wounded pride and convince herself you cheated.”

“I’m hoping she won’t,” I said. “I know it’s her culture… but she’s got a choice. Ogres are proud, but they’re not uniformly stupid. They’d be extinct if they refused to make treaties with obviously stronger powers, without putting them to the test first.”

“You have to remember Belinda deliberately chose to identify with her ogre side, though,” Amaranth said thoughtfully. “If she’s defensive enough about it, she might take ogrish culture more seriously than a full-blooded ogre who grew up in it would.”

“True,” I said. “I can hope, though.”

“You can always hope for the best from people,” Amaranth said. “Do you need anything, baby?”

“I think what I really want is a hot bath,” I said. Despite the unpleasantness with Trina, my last one really had been extremely relaxing, and since I didn’t have any injuries to heal, I couldn’t think of a better treatment for the pain.

“Oh, do you want company?” Amaranth asked.

Under other circumstances… and with a truly private bath… that would have been tempting. Well, it was tempting anyway. Just not tempting enough.

“No, thank you,” I said. “I just want to relax.”

“Oh, hey!” Steff said. “If you really want to relax, give me a couple minutes. I can run over to my room and get you some peppermint bath salts, and a little sachet of herbs you can drop in the water… I use them for muscle pain and fatigue. I don’t know if they’ll work for you, but they won’t hurt.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said.

Before she left to fetch her stuff, we agreed to all get food from the store and eat it in the lounge after my bath, so we could be hanging out there right up to the meeting. Steff’s floor had their meeting at the same time as ours, so she’d leave shortly before, but she’d be there for moral support in the mean time. They’d make sure Two knew the plan while I was in the bath.

When Steff returned, I declined both of their offers of support to the bathroom–which Steff wasn’t allowed to enter, anyway–and made my own teetering way there instead. Feejee was in her customary tub again, as I’d half-expected… I could have said “hoped” or “feared” with about equal accuracy. I wanted a chance to make up for my earlier mistakes but feared making things worse.

“Hi,” I said. I turned away as I undressed but resisted the powerful impulse to hide behind the curtain while I did this.

“Hey,” she said, a little lazily. “You might want to look out… I heard a rumor earlier that Belinda’s looking to jump you some time today. I don’t like spreading gossip, but… just in case it’s true…”

“It’s true,” I said, turning to face her as I spoke. I did my best not to blush when I realized I’d just bared my chest to her. She walked around with hers on display all the time, after all. “Or it was. But thanks for the warning, anyway.”

“You’re welcome.”

I started the bath. The running water covered the need for conversation for a while. I turned the heat up all the way again and dumped the salts in under the running water. The alchemically treated powder effervesced impressively, tinting the water pink as it did so. The aroma of peppermint was just strong enough not to be overpowering. I climbed into the tub while the water was still running and breathed it in. When the tub was almost full, I turned the water off and then… with a little trepidation… added the herbs. There was no immediately noticeable difference.

“Feejee?” I asked.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry… about the way I’ve acted,” I said. “I don’t mean to be rude.”

She didn’t answer immediately.

“I know,” she said eventually.

“I’m just not used to having… people be friendly to me,” I said, not sure if it would be presumptuous to call her my friend. Dee had been flattered when I’d acknowledged her as such, but she’d more or less invited people to do that.

“I like to think I’m just a friendly person,” Feejee said, after another pause.

“You are,” I said. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

After that, Feejee was content for us to soak in silence, in mutual solitude. It might have just been the hot water, the tingling sensation of the fizz, and the soothing minty vapor… or it might have been something in the herbs after all… but a soothing, peaceful sensation began to spread through my body, and for a while I was able to forget not just my pain but my problems.

I’d have to take baths more often, I decided.

I wondered if Two knew about baths. I’d have to find out.

She’d probably like rubber duckies as much as she liked teddy bears.

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2 Responses to “114: Shared Pain”

  1. Erm says:

    “The ogre culture’s not big on the concept of ‘tie’,” Steff asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she skips the vote entirely… and tries to get a definitive answer later, when she’s had a chance to lick her wounded pride and convince herself you cheated.”

    Asked?

    Current score: 0
  2. zeel says:

    “Steff, chill,” I said. “She’s not going to attack me. Not physically.”

    Of course not, nobody would do that. Especially not Sooni.

    Current score: 1