123: Gratitude

on December 22, 2007 in 05: The Weekend Shift

Author’s Note: Sorry for the delay. Had to run out to the store in case we get snow dumped on us tomorrow, and then this just kept getting longer and longer… enjoy it, as the next new chapter will be up Wednesday. I hope everybody has a great holiday weekend!

In Which Puddy Is The Hero

Puddy didn’t hang around in the doorway… she came straight into the room, letting it swing closed behind her. She might have just been getting into the thick of things but part of me was thinking right away that she was trying to keep things private, or as private as they had been. I don’t doubt the sound of the fight had carried out into the hallway.

Other than Kiersta–who probably wouldn’t intervene if half the dorm was being chomped on by a dragon–Puddy had one of the closest rooms. Some people would’ve ignored the sound of a raging brawl. Some would have gone into their rooms and locked the door behind them. Not Puddy, though… she’d charged right in, probably just to prove to herself that she wasn’t afraid.

Somehow my eyes were drawn to the haft of the axe, poking out over her shoulder. Weapons were such a fact of life that you forgot all about them… or at least, I did… but now that Rocky had hers out, I couldn’t help looking at Puddy’s and wondering when she was going to pull it.

I’m sure Rocky was thinking the same thing, but she was watching Puddy’s face and her body.

Well, at least she wasn’t looking at me.

“Why don’t you put that thing away?” Puddy said. She was grinning the big cheesy grin which sometimes had struck me as kind of aggressive and other times had struck me as completely predatory. Now it struck me as ludicrously out of place, like she had no idea that there was a life and death struggle going on, that I had really hurt Rocky and she had been set to really kill me. “Before you do something you regret.”

“Regret?” Rocky said. “She tried to eat me! This is self-defense.”

“I come in and see you with a sword, her doubled over… is that her knife on the floor?” Puddy said. “Looks pretty one-sided to me.”

“Look at me,” Rocky said, holding up her mangled hand and using it to point to the gouge on her other arm. “She was chewing on me like a dog with a bone.”

“Well, you did take her knife away,” Puddy said, smirking confidently. “She had to fight back somehow.”

“You won’t think it’s so funny when your little pet imp gets bounced out on her ass,” Rocky said.

“Hey… isn’t there a match beginning soon, or something?” Puddy asked, still with the same air of not-quite-grasping-the-gravity. “I would think it was about time you headed on over.”

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be there already,” Rocky said. “I would be, too, but when Belinda didn’t show, Hissy and I only came back to…”

“Well, you probably should get going, then,” Puddy said. “Especially if you want to get a force regen in time to qualify. I don’t think they let you fight with pieces missing.”

“That’s not going to stop me from reporting this,” Rocky said. “I don’t need the wounds to file a complaint.”

“And she’ll say self-defense and have a witness,” Puddy said. “And where does that leave you? If she complains, you’ll be benched during the investigation… and it’ll probably come down to a she-said, she-said, situation.”

“You think they’re going to take the word of a demon over a skirmish player?” Rocky asked.

“I think they won’t give a damn which monster did what to the other,” Puddy said. “If anything, they’ll expel you both and call it ‘zero tolerance.'”

“I am not a monster!” Rocky said. “I am a human fucking being!”

“You want to bet your college skirmish career that others will see it the same way?” Puddy said. “Two things can happen here: you go and get yourself cleaned up so you can fight in the match tonight and then just go on with your life with no real loss, or you can turn it into a thing, get benched for most of the season, and possibly get kicked out in the end. It doesn’t seem like that hard a choice to me. Why make trouble?”

I didn’t think it was really that likely that the powers that be wouldn’t just listen to the skirmish player over the half-demon, but I held my tongue. Though, it occurred to me that Puddy had made similar suggestions after the first time Barley had assaulted me: don’t make trouble. She was very quick at pulling such arguments out.

“I can get healed up, but what about Hissy and Belinda?” Rocky demanded.

“What about them?” Puddy asked.

“She… did something… to them,” Rocky said. “Belinda won’t fight, and Hissy… Hissy…”

“I didn’t, I…” I started.

“Shut it,” Puddy ordered. “If they’re not in any shape to fight, that’s another reason you should just get yourself healed. You might want to do that soon, by the way… it’s hard to tell with your skin, but I think you might be getting a little pale.”

“Fine,” Rocky said, sheathing her sword with some effort. She went back to the showers and staggered out with Hissy leaning on her shoulder. The reptile woman was in some weird kind of semi-conscious state. Her legs were moving, but she was leaning into Rocky and her eyes were… blank.

I couldn’t look at her.

“This isn’t over,” Rocky said. She was talking to Puddy and ignoring me. I wouldn’t call Puddy charismatic, but she had an odd kind of presence. “If your little ‘girlfiend’ is smart, she’ll just disappear.”

Puddy just glared back at her, until the pair were gone. Then she led me, shaking and trembling, into a stall and set me down on the toilet seat.

“Shh,” she said, cupping her hand under my chin and giving me the most creepily misplaced paternal look I’ve ever seen. “Puddy’s gonna take care of everything.”

She left the stall and I heard the sound of more showers coming on. Then she came back, my knife in one hand and the grisly trophy I’d torn off of Rocky in the other. I found a little bit more color in my face to lose. I accepted my weapon without comment and slipped it back in the sheath, dully noting that the leather was a little torn.

“We’ll just leave those running until somebody shuts them off,” she said. “That’ll take care of any traces left in there.”

I nodded mutely. I got the feeling she didn’t just mean blood; running water had the property of erasing mystical impressions. I was a little troubled by the fact that Puddy knew that. Of course, I knew it… but it was a useful thing for enchanters to know. Before a sensitive, detailed enchantment was started, the objects were often left in a stream (or under a faucet) for a few days to make sure they were “clean.”

However, it was also a reason why murder weapons (and murdered people) were often disposed of in rivers… it made it harder for diviners to locate them, or to pull any information from them when they were found.

I knew Puddy wasn’t a murderer, but I wondered what she had needed to cover up in the past.

She went into the next stall and I heard a splash followed by a flush. I realized she’d just got rid of the bit of Rocky in the most efficient way; it would have been destroyed along with the waste water. Then she disappeared and came back shortly carrying a potion bottle with a spray nozzle. I watched through the open stall door as she squirted it on the puddle of sickeningly crimson vomit and the whole mess began to steam and hiss.

Puddy watched with interest as the whole thing evaporated to nothingness.

“I wasn’t sure it would work on the chunks of bone and stoneskin,” she said. “But I guess vomit’s vomit, whatever it started as.”

“You keep a bottle of vomit remover in your room?” I asked.

“It was in the cleaning supply closet,” she said.

“Isn’t that locked?”

“It’s supposed to be,” she said. “Wipe your face off and we’ll get out of here before anybody else gets curious enough to come check.”

I did so, turning to get her opinion on my progress instead of checking in the mirror. I was the last person I wanted to see at the moment.

What would I see behind those eyes? I’d been… sick. Disgustingly evil. Worse than I could ever have imagined, and my imagination was pretty foul to begin with. If I was any kind of decent, I would have wished I was dead… I wouldn’t have tried to stop Rocky from ending it. I would have begged her to finish. I didn’t regret that she hadn’t, though… I was trembling with relief as much as with weakness. Could there be any worse proof of my nature?

The things I’d thought… Two on a platter, and what exactly had I been thinking about doing to Steff? And Ian… fuck.

He was probably already over at the union, waiting for me.

Perversely, it was probably a good thing Rocky and Hissy had cornered me. What might I have done to him if I’d just gone to meet him as planned? A public break-up would have been the best thing that could have happened, and that was if he was smart. Of course, what if I’d taken it badly? I could have hurt him… or worse… before somebody managed to step in and stop me.

When you got right down to it, did I have any business dating a human?

Or anybody?

Puddy led me to her room. I didn’t notice where we were heading until we got there. She took me over to her desk chair and sat me down. I had a dim awareness that I was letting myself be entirely too malleable, considering who was doing the shaping.

Puddy, my “best friend”… Puddy the bully and abuser… Puddy the big dog, who was always on top.

“I’ll go get you some dry clothes from your room,” she said. I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t just go back to my room and change, but I didn’t argue. Puddy seemed to be in helpful, take-care-of-business mode. I needed time to think, to catch my breath.

What would I have done, if the skirmishers hadn’t grabbed me?

It didn’t bear thinking about, but somehow I couldn’t stop… and then there were even worse questions waiting in back of it all. I should have fed myself a week ago. What had happened instead, while my demon side starved and grew more desperate? I thought I’d been growing more confident, more sure of myself… but was that just the first signs of the desperation which had overtaken me?

My willingness to let Ian into my mouth could have been a weird mixture of my growing hunger and lust… and then I’d let Steff sort-of have her way with me during our “make out session.” Was that something I would have done, without my darker impulses riding closer to the surface? It didn’t seem like it.

And… I’d touched Amaranth… knowingly and willingly, I’d fucked her with my hand… I’d thought it was only because it was her, and she was a nymph… but had there been more at work?

And then I’d stood up to Ariadne, and stared down Belinda… had my growing hunger been responsible for that?

It was almost enough to make me give into despair completely, but it was at that point that I realized: I didn’t care.

This wasn’t apathy. I was very passionate–vehement, even–about not caring.

I did not care why I had stood up to Ariadne. It didn’t matter why I’d faced up to Belinda, or why I’d gone as far as I had with Amaranth, or Ian, or Steff… I’d done it. It had happened.

I would give almost anything to undo the afternoon’s events, but I wouldn’t trade the rest of the week for the world.

The question was, could I strike a balance, find somewhere between letting the evil within me out and going back to being the world’s toilet paper? Was that even possible? It didn’t seem likely… but it would be so wonderful if I could.

I remembered what Amaranth had said about finding a middle volume between mumbling inaudibly and screaming at the top of my lungs… moderation wasn’t my strong point.

I was ruminating on that when Puddy returned with a pair of my jeans and a t-shirt. She tossed them at me, but I wasn’t really in a very “catching” sort of place and they just kind of bounced off me and landed on the desk.

“You should get out of those wet things,” Puddy said, not at all achieving the kindly tone she was going for.

Her eyes probed like spears. Her smile was positively indecent.

“I’d really rather not change in front of somebody else,” I said, managing to make the correction smooth where I almost said “in front of you.” Better not to make it personal. I stood and gathered the clothes up, meaning to walk past her to the door. She reached behind her with her foot and kicked it closed. I acted like I didn’t notice. “Bye, Puddy… thanks for your help. We’ll talk later, okay?”

“I agree,” she said, turning off the overhead light so that the room was only lit by the late afternoon sun behind her blinds. “Talk later.”

“Goodbye, Puddy,” I said again, and started to move towards the door, veering a bit to get around her.

She veered, too, and knocked the clothes out of my hand.

“Here,” she said, and she grabbed my stretchy top. “Let me… help you with that.”

She sounded like a kid imitating a suave seductive hero. It was ridiculous, but not the least bit funny.

“Puddy, I have to go,” I said, trying to push her hands away. “Ian’s waiting for me.”

“Forget about him,” she said. She grabbed my shirt with both hands and started to literally tear it off me.

“Puddy, stop!” I yelled. I probably would have cared a lot less about the destruction of my trashiest top, but it had been a gift from Amaranth and Steff. I tried to both pull away and force her hands off, and in the process only really helped her.

“That’s better,” she said, flinging the shreds of elasticine cloth aside. I tried to dart past her, but she grabbed me by the arms and started manhandling me in the direction of the two beds Mariel and her had pushed together.

“Puddy, you have a girlfriend,” I reminded her, pushing back.

“I have a festering sore on my ass,” Puddy said. She lifted me off the floor and started carrying me. “And she talks too much.”

“Dump her, then,” I said, trying to wriggle free of her less-than-tender embrace.

“For you?” Puddy said, smiling at the idea. “Maybe I will.”

“Puddy, think about what you’re doing,” I said.

She suddenly held me up at arm’s length, like I was a child and she was a grown up. It was a ridiculous position, considering I was actually taller than her.

You think about it,” she said. Her grip on my arms tightened as she spoke. “Who’s going to take you? Amaranth? She’s so goody-goody… it’d break her heart if she knew what you were really like. I know, and I don’t care. I love you, Mack… I’ll love you like no one else will.”

“Puddy, you need help,” I said, struggling not to panic. Her words had no hold on me, because while I knew Amaranth would have been horrified by my display in the bathroom, I knew Amaranth would foolishly love me regardless. I was pretty sure Steff would love me more than was healthy after such a scene, too. Two… if I could pick one person in all the world to shield the knowledge of my sheer awfulness from, it would be her, but I couldn’t see her running from me, even if I was coming to devour her.

Yeah, I had stupid friends, but they were stupid in my favor… and as long as I had them, I didn’t need Puddy’s kind of “affection.”

“I’ve got all the help I need,” she said.

She threw me on to the doubled bed. It was strangely familiar. I felt… odd. I’d been in this sort of situation far too often, it seemed, and I’d often gone along with the flow out of a feeling that I couldn’t–or didn’t dare–resist. Now, I wasn’t putting up much of an effective resistance, but my mind felt oddly clear. I had no illusions about what was happening or where it was heading. I wasn’t panicking, or despairing… I was close to both, but I wasn’t doing either.

With that odd clarity of mind, I made two decisions: I wasn’t going to fight Puddy off. With that hideous strength of hers, it would take real violence to do so, and there was no way I could make myself do something like that after what had happened with Rocky.

The second decision was that I was not going to let this happen.

“You need to stop,” I said as she crawled over me.

“I just saved your ass,” she said, leaning down and kissing the side of my neck. I was uncomfortably reminded of myself, a few minutes before.

“And that makes it yours?” I said, getting my hands between her face and me and prying her back.

“No,” she said, grabbing my wrists and forcing my arms apart. “But now you’re going to show me some gratitude.”

“Thank you,” I said, forcing my mind to stay detached. I’d managed to make myself almost oblivious to things like her hand on my crotch, in my… well, I’d made myself ignore some pretty bad things before. Now I was having to work at it, to keep myself calm. “Get off of me.”

“That’s not how it works,” she said, forcing my arms down to my sides. I resisted as best as I could, but I was pretty banged up all around, and she was stronger. “I saved you, Mack.”

“Puddy, this is rape,” I said.

“It’s romance,” she said. “I’m the hero. This is my reward.”

“This isn’t some TV show,” I said. “I may be kind of a damsel and I may have been in distress, but I still get a say.”

“And… you say yes,” Puddy said.

“You’re actually going to force me to have sex because you think that’s what’s supposed to happen next?” I said. It seemed like everybody I ran into was, one way or another, living in a supposed-to stranglehold.

“I’m not going to force you to do anything,” Puddy said, sitting up a bit. She managed to sound offended by the suggestion. “That’s what losers do when they can’t get it willing.”

“I’m not willing, Puddy,” I said.

I watched anger cloud her face and then saw her eye twitch as if she were brushing away a fly that had landed there. She was actually going to pretend that I hadn’t said anything.

“I said, I’m not willing.” I said it calmly.

“Liar,” Puddy said. She leaned back down over me, covering my body with hers, and began to fumble at my jeans. The tightness of them worked against her, making it harder for her to find and undo the snap. That’s it, I decided… it was time to stop. “You want this.”

“Puddy,” I said, as calmly as I could. “I’m going to count to three… and if you’re still on top of me, I’m lighting us both on fire.”

“But I saved you,” she said, hurt.

“Thank you,” I said again, and I meant it. It was a very Two-like thought process: somebody saves your life, you thank them. “One…”

“I saved you!” she said again. “I saved your life!”

“I hope I never have to return that favor in kind, but I would… I’d do it in a heart beat,” I said. “Two…”

“You’re not,” she said. “You couldn’t.”

I felt the back of the metal post digging into my skin as she fought with the snap.

“Thr…”

Fine!” she yelled, jerking herself to the side and shoving–almost throwing–me off the bed. “Fine! Be an ungrateful little bitch! Next time somebody’s got a magic sword aimed at your neck, see if I do anything! You just see!”

“Puddy…” I said, getting myself up of the floor. “I wish we could be friends…”

“Oh, what a joke!” she cried. “Do you even know how to be a friend? You don’t stand by people! If you did, I would have voted and you’d have won the election! You ever think about that?” Fat tears were streaming down her face, which was contorted like a bawling toddler’s. “You don’t! You don’t ever think of anything but what you want, what you need! I thought you were different… but you’re just like everybody else!”

I’m not Amaranth, or Steff, or even Two… I’m not a naturally huggy person. I’ve found myself enjoying them, but for some reason they always feel forced and awkward when I awkwardly force myself to give somebody one. So, it was weird that I found myself wanting to hug Puddy.

I mean, on top of the fact that she was essentially crying because I’d spoiled her rape attempt.

I could at least spare some words of comfort.

“I don’t think you’re a bad person, and you could have lots of friends, if you didn’t try so hard,” I said. “You don’t have to impress everyone. You don’t have to beat everybody all the time…”

Puddy turned livid. Okay, maybe “beat” wasn’t the most comforting word I could have chosen.

“What did Mariel tell you?” she asked through lips stretched thin and tight.

“I didn’t mean like…”

“What did she tell you?” Puddy yelled. “You’d better keep it to yourself, whatever it was! She’s a fucking liar, can’t you tell? She’s jealous… she doesn’t want you to like me because she wants me for herself!”

“Okay!” I said, holding up my hands. “Okay.”

I might have told her that I believed her, except that I didn’t. Still, it was time for the conversation to end before she got violent. I really do think she liked picturing herself as the hero of her own story, and that the whole steamy sexual encounter she had been envisioning was both entirely consensual and even romantic… but if I pushed her too far, she’d forget about being the “good guy.”

I grabbed my fallen clothes… including the ruined top, on the chance that Two or Hazel knew somebody in the domestic arts program with the necessary magic to repair it… and backed towards the door.

“Thanks, again,” I said. “I really do appreciate what you did.”

“Just go,” Puddy said, turning her back. She was sniffling.

As I closed the door behind me, I heard her saying, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” and I wondered, was she talking about the encounter, our friendship… or college?

Any which way you looked at it, it was amazing how much trouble could be caused by something as simple and seemingly harmless as an expectation.

Discuss This Chapter On The Forum


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!







3 Responses to “123: Gratitude”

  1. Anthony says:

    Wow. I was just starting to see her as a somewhat sympathetic character… and then she goes and tries to unilaterally claim a “hero’s reward” like that…

    Current score: 0
  2. Mugasofer says:

    *cheers*

    Finally! I’ve been waiting for her to do that since Puddy tried to smother her way back in book one.

    Current score: 6
  3. C says:

    Yay.
    Character Development.

    Current score: 3