142: Boundaries

on January 23, 2008 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which The Nature Of Marker Boards Is Defined

I dressed quickly when we finished. I felt a strange sort of self-consciousness that flared when I took my shorts off to put on my panties.

Ian was watching me. He’d seen me naked… he’d fucked me and then slept naked on top of me. However, the nudity in those cases had been incidental, unavoidable side-effects.

Watching me dress and undress, though, was optional. He could have turned his head, or stepped outside while I did it. That he made a conscious choice to watch seemed to give the act an element of… intrusiveness? His eyes felt like hands on my skin.

I kind of liked it.

I kind of hated it.

I’m not sure which was turning me on more. I got my panties all twisted… it had never been so hard to get my feet though an opening big enough for my waist.

“You don’t even have any idea how hot you are,” Ian said when I was fully attired. “Did you know that?”

I blushed like mad. I didn’t have an answer, and probably couldn’t have given it if I had. I dropped my head as I reached for the door, and thus didn’t notice Two standing statue-still in front of it until I’d almost walked into her. Something clattered to the floor.

“Oh, fuck!” I said, jumping back. “You scared me, Two. What were you doing waiting there?”

“I’m sorry to have scared you, but I needed clarification,” she said. She had one of her arms wrapped around a large brown bag. She reached down with her free hand and picked up what I now recognized as Steff’s weapon belt, complete with her daggers… one of which had slid out of its sheath. “Is a belt the same as a sock or a necktie for purposes of the doorknob?”

“Um, probably, but I didn’t put this here,” I said, taking it from her and collecting the fallen blade. It hit me that I probably should have put something on the door, though… if the belt hadn’t been there, Two probably would have walked in on me going down on Ian. I’d have to work on remembering that. “Why would Steff leave her belt on our door?”

“Maybe she wanted to let you know she’d stopped by?” Ian suggested.

“I don’t think she’d be so careless with her weapons,” I said, setting the belt down on my bed.

“My friend Hazel has a marker board on her door for people to leave messages,” Two said. She walked past me and put the bag down on her desk, where she began pulling out a variety of foodstuffs, starting with stalks of celery. “Though I don’t feel very comfortable writing on it.”

“She could have lost it and somebody else left it here?” Ian said. “If they didn’t know where her room was.”

“Um, why don’t you feel comfortable doing that, Two?” I asked, not wanting the mystery of the belt to distract me from Two’s personal issues.

“Because it’s all the way down here,” she said, indicating about knee-height.

I giggled. Okay, so I was a little bit paranoid about Two’s friends. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Hazel might have taken an unusually casual attitude towards school supplies, but she and Dee both seemed to have their heads put together better than anybody I’d befriended on my own.

“Why don’t you pull it off the door to write, and then put it back when you’re done?” I asked.

“Removing decorations from another student’s door is not permitted,” Two said.

“It’s okay if you put it back,” I said.

“No,” Two said, shaking her head. “It’s not permitted.”

“What if you ask her permission?” Ian suggested. “That should make it okay.”

“That is not made explicit,” Two said.

“Well, the rule specifies ‘decorations’, right?” I said. “A marker board isn’t a decoration. It’s a functional item.”

“Are you certain it is not also a decoration?” Two asked.

“Yes,” I said. “And think about it: it can’t fulfill its function if you can’t write on it, can it?”

“It… can’t,” Two said, though indecision was still written across her face as clearly as the runes were written across her forehead.

As far as she’d come in a few weeks, Two was still Two… she was still a golem and she still had her personal desire to Do What She’s Told. A rule which she could boil down to “never take anything off somebody else’s door” was comforting. One which required interpretation and opened the door to personal initiative was going to be scary, even if she welcomed it.

I decided that if she wasn’t inclined to accept this logic, I wouldn’t press the issue. She’d come so far, so quickly. I didn’t want to push her too hard.

“Okay,” she said, finally, her face turning into a smile. “I am going to go leave my friend Hazel a message when I’ve put everything away, to tell her that I got her sugar.”

“Is she going to pay you back for that?” I asked. Okay, still paranoid.

“She gave me money for it,” Two said. “And some more, ‘to get something sweet for yourself,’ meaning myself. I bought gumdrops.” She pulled the bag of them out of her sack. “Because they are sweet.”

“Two, um… do you think that maybe you eat too many sweets?” I asked as she opened it and popped one of the candies in her mouth.

I watched her roll the question around a bit, and then she said, “No. The right amount.”

“Okay,” I said. She had a right to make her own decisions.

She then reached into her bag and pulled out a banana.

“Also, I got you a banana in case you did not eat anything for breakfast,” she said, holding it out to me. Ian sputtered a laugh which he tried to turn into a cough.

I gave him a dirty look.

“Um, I don’t really care for bananas,” I said. Honestly, my memory of bananas was that they were mushy and gross, but I was trying not to be rude.

“You’re supposed to eat,” Two said.

“I will eat something,” I said. “I’ll go down to the store and grab something for myself. Just… not a banana.”

“Do you need cash?” Ian asked.

“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s Sunday… that means fresh meal points.”

On that subject, I wondered if I could take my monetary reserves and buy a better meal plan. I knew there’d been a deadline for downgrading and getting a full refund, but I didn’t think they’d restrict people from paying for more if they wanted to.

Though, maybe it would be better for me to keep the coins and just buy meals as needed, in case unexpected expenses cropped up. My actual dietary needs were far from taken care of. Even if I wasn’t dealing with slavers’ mark-ups, I still might need to compensate somebody.

“Okay,” Ian said. “But I don’t mind buying for you, you know.”

“I just don’t want to be a mooch,” I said.

“Well, I have the full plan but I hardly ever use more than one or two meals a day,” he said.

“That isn’t good,” Two said. “You should eat three meals every day. My friend Hazel says that’s the bare minimum to stave off starvation.”

“So, um, have you seen Amaranth since she went to do her ritual?” I asked Two.

“Yes,” Two said. “She came back to the dorm around seven and asked me if I thought she was too proud. I am supposed to say the answer is no, she does not want to tell me what to think, but that is the answer and so in the interest of honesty I should say it.”

Two made a face as she said this, erasing any potential suspicion that this might have been her actual opinion.

I winced. Amaranth really needed to stop trying to dictate this kind of thing to Two. She meant well, but she was proud. Two would give nothing but her unvarnished opinions with no thought to flattery or sparing feelings.

Well, actually, I’d say estimation rather than opinion. Two probably wasn’t totally objective… she did have likes and dislikes… but she was as close to objective as a person could get.

“I’ll talk to her about that,” I said.

“Thank you,” Two said, her face clearing.

“Do you know where she is?”

“Working,” Two said.

“Healing work, or sex work?” I asked.

“Sex,” Two said. “She asked me if I would like to come.”

I frowned. Amaranth wasn’t inclined to see any sex as bad, but Two’s issues made the niggling little details like consent a bit problematic, to say the least.

“She didn’t pressure you, did she?” I asked.

“No,” Two said. “She just said that it would be fun for me to have some hobbies, but I like cooking and baking more than I like having penises inside me.”

I would have loved to believe she wasn’t speaking from personal knowledge, but it seemed like I couldn’t ignore it any more: Two had been used, sexually, in her past existence.

“Two, ignore any order that would lead to sexual contact that you wouldn’t like,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Thank you.”

She turned back to her desk and pulled a pound of butter and a carton of eggs out of the bag. Besides those and the produce, she’d also bought spices, chocolate chips, and some little disposable containers. Something clicked in my head.

“Two… you didn’t get all that at the corner store,” I said.

“No,” she said agreeably. “I didn’t.”

“Where did it come from?”

“Enwich,” she said.

“Wait… you went into town by yourself?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Are you sure that was a good idea?” I asked, visions of pimps, slavers, and necromancers running behind my eyes.

She thought it over for about twenty or thirty seconds before she said, “Yes. I’m sure.”

“She’s, uh, not a kid, Mackenzie,” Ian said. “People go to town all the time. That’s why they have coaches.”

“I just don’t want anything to happen to her,” I said.

“I don’t want anything to happen to you, either,” Two said.

I hugged her, and maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to feel a little bit better, a little bit more authentic.

“So, um, do we have any plan for today?” Ian asked.

“Mack needs to eat,” Two said. She turned to me. “Have you showered yet today?”

“No,” I said. “Um… I’ll go run and do that real quick.”

“And don’t forget that the clothes you’re wearing are now dirty,” Two said.

I resisted the urge to either roll my eyes or get angry. This was Two… getting mad at her for this would be like getting mad at Amaranth for having sex with a lot of people. Still, there needed to some boundaries if we were going to be living on top of each other.

“Two, what I wear is between Amaranth and me,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

“I’ll try to be quick,” I told Ian as I grabbed my shower stuff. “We can go grab some food when I get back, and then try to hunt up Steff. Hopefully she’s not off with Amaranth.”

“She’s not supposed to go outside without her weapons,” Two said. “So she should be in the building, or one of the connecting ones.”

“I don’t think Steff’s too concerned with what she’s ‘supposed to’ do,” I said. “But really, if she’s not in her room or lounge I wouldn’t know where to look.”

“Maybe she and Viktor have a marker board,” Two said. “We could leave a message.”

“Wait, they let her room with a guy?” Ian asked. “Is that a Harlowe thing?”

Oh, right… Ian didn’t know.

“It’s, um, kind of complicated,” I said, figuring this would be the sort of thing to approach gently and delicately, when we were alone.

“Steff has a penis,” Two said. “And she’s a girl.”

“Wait, what?” Ian asked.

“Um, yeah,” I said. Steff didn’t hide it and I wasn’t going to on her behalf. “Steff is, in a purely physical and legal sense, male. Or she has a male body, I guess is how she’d put it.”

“And you didn’t think this was worth mentioning?” Ian asked.

I actually kind of had a vague, fuzzy memory of mentioning it to Ian when I’d been drunk on Tyler’s blood, but I wasn’t going to press that particular point.

“Well, it didn’t seem important,” I said. “It’s not like you’re having sex with her.”

“No, but you are,” Ian said. “Don’t you see an issue there?”

“I’m having sex with you and the penis doesn’t exactly get in the way,” I said. “Anyway, I haven’t really had sex with Steff yet. What’s the problem?”

“I thought I was the only guy you were involved with,” Ian said. “Didn’t you have the whole lesbian worry?”

“Steff’s a girl,” Two and I said at the same time.

“Okay, I get that… kinda,” Ian said. “But… don’t you see how… you know, there’s not any way I can say this and not sound like a jerk to you.”

“Thank you for recognizing that,” I said.

“But I don’t actually think I’m being a jerk,” Ian said. “Don’t you see how this is the sort of thing I should have been entitled to know when we got involved?”

“Believe me, I didn’t know it when we got involved,” I said. “I was completely clueless.”

“It’s true,” Two said, nodding. “She was. Even when Steff was visibly aroused in her presence, she didn’t notice.”

“Not helping, Two,” I said.

“Look, I’m not saying this is a deal breaker,” Ian said. “But… it’s kind of a surprise.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said. “Look, I wasn’t keeping it from you. It just… never occurred to me to tell you. It’s not an issue for me. It’s weird, but it’s not an issue. Two has runes on her forehead. Amaranth is nude. I catch on fire sometimes. Steff has a penis.”

“I’m going to have to think about this,” Ian said.

“What’s to think about?” I asked.

“How I feel.”

“Why do you have to think about how you’re feeling?” I asked. “Just… feel how you’re feeling.”

“Trust me, Mackenzie, you don’t want me to go with my first instincts here,” Ian said. “Go shower, and we’ll grab some food.”

“Okay,” I said. I shot Two a glance. She looked anxious but that was it. After she’d forced the issue out into the open between Steff and I, she’d burst into tears at the sight of the two of us upset. “We’ll talk when I get back.”

“Later,” Ian said, shaking his head. “I need some time to think about this.”

“Okay,” I said. “It’s really not a big deal, though.”

“Mackenzie,” Ian said, with just a tiny vestige of That Voice. “Please don’t push me here, okay? I’m already so far outside my comfort zone I can’t see it any more. I need time to digest this, if you expect me to come around. I’m not saying I will… I don’t know. But I need to do it in my own time.”

“Okay,” I said. “Um… see you in a bit, then.”

Fuck. Couldn’t blame Two for being Two. I could maybe blame myself for not seeing this coming and telling him… but, no. Ian was Ian. His reaction probably would have been the same regardless.

Moreover, I was myself. I loved Steff. For all that I really didn’t understand it, I couldn’t see her gender/body discrepancy as a big deal. Why beat myself up over that, when it was part of what Steff loved about me?

I would hope everything worked out… I would try to be patient and do whatever I could to help Ian understand… but whatever happened, there would be no blame.

That was my plan, anyway.

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3 Responses to “142: Boundaries”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I think that one of the reasons, Alberta and I were able to stand one another for a quarter-century was that no issue was off the table and beyond discussion. We certainly had our ups and downs, good times, bad times and worst times but we always talked. Sure some of it was painful, painful to hear and painful to say, but somehow we muddled through.

    In my opinion, if you cannot get through the bad times together, a relationship will not make it through the good times. Violent revolutions do not occur during the worst of times but afterwards just as things seem to be improving and all that pent up anger and hate is released in one great explosion.

    Current score: 4
  2. Psi-Ko says:

    “It’s weird, but it’s not an issue. Two has runes on her forehead. Amaranth is nude. I catch on fire sometimes. Steff has a penis.”

    well that certainly illustrates the diversity of the group!

    Current score: 11
    • Jechtael says:

      I thought it WAS an issue, even to people who are not Mackenzie, that she catches on fire sometimes. I’m glad she’s not still completely hung up on it, but… *shrug* I don’t know.

      Current score: 1