Chapter 149: Backhanded ComplimentsAlexandraErin on May 8, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Permission Is Asked
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“Would it bother you if I suck completely and don’t walk you home?” Grace said to Nicki after we’d finished eating. “I really probably should have gone straight back to Glory when I found out what day it was… or even before that. I don’t know how much worse things can get, by I don’t want to push it any further… I’m already going to be in so much trouble.”
“Even though your sister’s going to be happy for you?” Nicki asked.
“She still has to keep discipline in the ranks,” Grace said. “The others will want to punish me if she doesn’t. So, if you don’t see me for a few days, It’s not because I don’t want to, but I might not be allowed to go off on my own for a while. Oh! And I just remembered… I’d love to meet the rest of your friends, but if you don’t think anyone would be insulted or anything I’d rather if I can just hang out with you two from the start. Nothing against them! I just… I didn’t expect to be up close with either one of you this quickly, and it’s kind of a lot.”
“Yeah, they can be intimidating,” Nicki said.
“We’re really not,” I said, though not with much confidence… I found most people intimidating at first just on principle. “But I don’t think anyone will mind.”
“That’s great,” Grace said. She looked at Nicki. “Do you think you’ll be okay walking back without me?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Nicki gets back to her room safely,” I said, still high on the thrill of being helpful.
“You? Seriously?” Grace said. “I guess a few more minutes won’t make a difference… it’s not like anyone’s going to be expecting me back at an exact particular time, anyway.”
In the interest of keeping the peace with Nicki’s new girlfriend, I didn’t bother to protest… also, while I was getting better at defending myself, it might not have been a comment on my abilities so much as my luck.
“You should walk back with us, though,” Nicki said. “If you don’t mind going out of your way.”
“Sure,” I said, thinking that my presence might be enough to stop a goodnight kiss from turning into “goodbye, Tuesday!”… and also, I’d come originally come over to try to enlist Nicki’s services for Amaranth’s adventure game, and what with one thing and another I hadn’t even brought it up.
There wasn’t a lot of conversation on the way back, though more than once Grace observed that we walked really slowly and that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed it before. It was verging on annoying, but as slow as our crude mortal legs may have been, they still got us back to the dorm before it became unbearably so.
“Wait… should we go in?” Grace said when we got to Nicki’s room.
“Maybe it’s best if you just say goodnight out here,” I said to
“You’re not wrong,” she said. “But it seems… anticlimactic? I mean, even another climax would be anticlimactic after that, but it seems like there should be something more than words, don’t you think?”
“…a goodnight kiss is kind of traditional,” Nicki said, blushing and ducking her head. “My lady.”
“Right, but we don’t really have time to get into that kind of stuff,” Grace said.
“A kiss doesn’t have to lead anywhere,” Nicki said. “I mean… not immediately.”
“Why would it have to lead anywhere else…? Oh, wait, when you say ‘kiss’, you don’t mean… you and me, kissing each other on the mouths?” Grace said.
“…do elves not do that?” Nicki asked.
“Grown-ups do, sometimes,” she said. “But I think that’s because as you get older, your definition of an equal gets a little more… generous. I know some boys do it, but they’re more… aggressive about it then I think I could manage.”
“Oh,” Nicki said. “We’re not equals… right.”
“Don’t get me wrong!” Grace said. “As humans go, you’re… you’re just awesome. You are the best human. And I am the worst elf. If we were on the same scale, you’d be… you’d be loads better than me.”
“Hold on,” I said. “You are not better than Nicki.”
“Not, like, personally,” Grace said. “It’s just… station? And I’m not saying no, I just… I’ve never thought about it. It’s not something that would have occurred to me. It’s… outside my comfort zone?”
“I could kiss the back of your hand?” Nicki suggested.
“Why… what’s wrong with my hand?” Grace said, looking at it in alarm.
“Nothing’s wrong with your hand,” Nicki said. “It’s perfect.”
“Then how is that better than my lips?” Grace said. “I know, you could kiss the sole of my boot!”
“You know, my lips have actually made contact with your skin in multiple locations,” Nicki said. “And none of them were less perfect than your hands or lips.”
“Yes, but that was… service,” she said.
“You went down on me, too,” Nicki said.
“Because I love pussy?” she said. “And yours was in front of me and it was mine to use, so I entertained myself with it. But this is affection. It’s… more intimate, and more complicated.”
“So, I’m good enough to have sex with for three days, but not good enough to kiss the back of your hand?” Nicki asked.
“Yes! Wow, you put that so succinctly. I guess it’s not that complicated after all,” Grace said. “Wait… why did it sound like a bad thing when you said it?”
“I think you had probably better go, Grace,” I said.
“I can decide that for myself,” Nicki said. “We aren’t done with this.”
“Why am I not the one deciding when I go?” Grace asked. “I am completely lost. Did I do something wrong, and if so, what?”
“Grace… you’re talking about me like I’m less than shit,” Nicki said.
“Not shit in general,” Grace said. “Mine, maybe. But you’re… so much better than shit, I don’t know why it’s even a comparison. Like, I can’t even imagine a situation where I’d be choosing between you and shit, much less one where it would be a close competition.”
“Except when it comes to kissing one of us,” Nicki said. “Then it seems to be a tie.”
“I didn’t say that!” Grace said. “I just said it’s not something I’d have thought of doing and I don’t know how I feel about it. Is there anything wrong with that?”
“Well, while you’re figuring it out, I can’t get down and kiss the bottom of your boot in public,” Nicki said.
“Okay,” Grace said. “Compromise?”
“Compromise is good,” Nicki said. “What do you have in mind?”
“You can kiss my hand,” Grace said. “As long as you ask first each time, and say thank you, and call me your lady.”
I was biting my tongue like crazy, because however they threshed out their respective places in their growing relationship, it wasn’t my place to interrupt their negotiation. If I heard or saw somethingdangerous, I’d speak up, but mere cultural chauvinism didn’t require an intervention.
I wasn’t crazy about the way Grace had been talking about Nicki, but I knew that while she wasn’t one hundred percent in sync with the elven middling sensibilities about these things, she had still internalized a lot of it.
“…I guess that works for me,” Nicki said. “I mean, it’s not what I was expecting but… it could be fun?”
Grace held out her hand.
“May I kiss your hand, my lady?” Nicki said.
“Oh my fuck, you are good at that!” Grace said, withdrawing her hand as she threw both of them up in the air in excitement. “Okay, okay, okay, sorry, I screwed that up. You just made me twitch in fun places when you said that. I didn’t realize affection could be… fun.”
“What did you think it was, work?” Nicki asked.
“Pretty much?” Grace said. “It’s… relationship stuff. And relationships take work, right?”
“Well, yeah, but… people kiss each other for fun,” Nicki said. “Because it’s nice. I mean, because it feels nice, not just because it’s the nice thing to do.”
“See, I always thought it was like… fealty,” Grace said. “Discharging obligation.”
“Does this mean we can try on the lips?”
“…maybe we can work on that in private,” she said. “For now, let’s try the hand thing again.”
“Okay,” Nicki said.
Grace put her hand out again, and this time Nicki took it with both of hers and bent her head down over it, turning her eyes up towards Grace.
“Still ask!” Grace said.
“I was going to, you goof!” Nicki said.
“Oh,” she said. “Sorry! It’s just… it’s no good if you don’t ask, so I was worried.”
“I was… working up to it,” Nicki said. “I was worried that if I just did it again the same way, it wouldn’t be as good, so I was going to try to be, you know… sultry.”
“You were sultry,” Grace said. “Just do it again, the same as before.”
“…now I don’t know if I can,” Nicki said. “What if I do it again and it’s different?”
I was starting to get a picture of how their three days together might have went, and it seemed less enthralling than the first impression had been. The whole thing probably should have felt incredibly awkward to me, but it also seemed weirdly surreal to the point that I wasn’t feeling the second-hand discomfort. Either that, or my taking charge earlier was still buoying me up, because I felt anything but passive.
“Look,” I said, and they both jumped and looked at me like they’d forgotten I was there. “Sorry. But… you’ve found something that works for both of you. Don’t overthink it. It’s probably not going to be perfect or exactly the way you imagine it in your head, but who cares? Nothing ever is. It’s only a problem if you expect it to be.”
“Okay, let’s just do it,” Grace said. “I mean… still ask! But just go ahead and ask.”
“May I please kiss your hand, my lady?” Nicki said.
“Eee!” Grace said, almost yanking her hand out of Nicki’s. “Sorry, I need to learn to respond with more dignity. But yes, fuck yes! I mean, yes, you may.”
I looked away as Nicki bent down over Grace’s hand and presumably tenderly kissed it.
“Ooh, the next time I see you, you’re going to ask me permission for so many things, you have no idea,” Grace said. “Because that is awesome.”
“I’m looking forward to it, my lady,” Nicki said.
“Oh, you should ask permission for that!” Grace said. “Oh, no, wait, that’s silly. Is it? I’m sorry, this is just… my nipples are like arrowheads right now, and I swear my clit’s trying to jump into your mouth.”
“Your sister’s going to be wondering where you are,” I reminded her. They were both basically my age, so it really wasn’t my job to prevent them from endangering another school day, but I still wanted to head it off if I could.
“Oh, right,” Grace said. She kissed two of her own finger tips, then pressed them to the front of Nicki’s jeans, then turned and glided away at a speed faster than a run. “Goodbye!”
Nicki stayed watching the direction she’d vanished well past the point that there was anything to see.
“Would you mind coming in for a while?” she said to me. “There are things I want to talk to you about, and now that the thrill’s departing, I’m feeling a little… exposed… out in the hall.”
“Sure, Nicki,” I said. “Do you mind if we open a window?”
“No, I guess I should probably air things out a little,” she said.
She unlocked the door and we went in, where she did open the window.
“Am I crazy?” she asked.
“…in what sense?” I asked.
I didn’t think she was worried that she’d imagined Grace or anything like that, but that still left multiple possibilities. I didn’t think she meant something like, “Am I crazy for blowing off class for sex?”, but in case she did, I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that she meant something about having a relationship with Grace. It was the more likely possibility, but it was also the more potentially insulting one if it was wrong.
Maybe I was overthinking it, but that seemed to be the only way I could stop the first thing that popped into my mind from popping out of my mouth.
“I mean, she’s fun and all,” Nicki said. “And she can be nice, but that’s… a lot of work for a kiss.”
“Well, I’m not saying there weren’t some iffy things in there,” I said. “But the two things to remember: one, she’s working, too. I kept getting the sense that she doesn’t agree with the elven perspective on relationships, but it’s the only perspective she has. I mean, she even said she likes the human approach to things better… you just can’t expect her to pick it up overnight, when she grew up among elves and has spent the past couple years around other middlings.”
“I guess you’re right,” Nicki said. “It really wouldn’t be fair to…”
“Okay, hold on,” I said. “There is no ‘fair’ here, or if there is, then it only applies to you. That’s the other thing I was going to tell you to remember: just because she’s trying to solve a problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.”
“So you think I should break up with her?”
“No,” I said. “I think you should make up your own mind, but it should be based on what’s right for you, not any feeling of obligation or abstract principle. It’s not just a question of whether the good outweighs the bad, it’s also a question of whether the bad is too bad. You seem… um… you seem okay with having a submissive position.”
“I’m totally okay with that!” Nicki said. “Like, I would never have said that I was submissive, but… I’ve had thoughts. And it works. At least with her.”
“Okay,” I said. “But she doesn’t just see you as submissive, but inferior. In the nicest and least personal way possible, but still.”
“Is that kind of thing a dealbreaker for you?” Nicki asked.
“That’s a question worth asking,” I said. “Steff… Steff has some shades of that, though she also has a massive inferiority complex of her own. But I think that’s probably one reason why my relationship with Steff is less serious than my other ones.”
It was something I didn’t think I’d ever said out loud, but it was true and something that everyone involved knew. My relationship with Amaranth was the primary one, that much had been spoken of, but my relationship with Ian had more in common with that one than with the one with Steff.
“I think I’m okay with it… for now… but what if I’m not sure?” she asked. “I don’t think I have a problem with her thinking elves are better than humans, I just… the look on her face when I suggested kissing her hand kind of pissed me off. I mean, obviously she liked it when we actually did it, and I think it really that she thought I’d picked her hand because there was something wrong with it, not that she was actually grossed out by the thought of my lips, but… I don’t know how often I can see someone shudder like that because of me before I start to feel gross.”
“If you were sure you were okay with it, I’d tell you to be suspicious of that,” I said. “Tell her up front that it might be a problem, and remember it’s not your job to fix her.”
“Any other tips?”
“Yeah, if she offers you jewelry… well, actually, I was going to make a joke, but in all seriousness… if she offers you a gift, don’t accept it until after you have a long discussion about what it does, and also what it means,” I said. I felt like this warning should be coming from Jamie, since he could speak from experience, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to put the two of them together directly to talk about elven suitors. As much as I wanted Nicki to have her eyes open, hearing the unexpurgated tales of Iason would probably put her off of dating elves forever.
“That sounds like… storybook stuff,” Nicki said.
“Well, you’re dealing with elves,” I said. “She’s not a typical elf, but like she said, she’d never thought about simple gestures of affection outside of the context of elven culture. Even if there isn’t any trap attached, knowing what she expects in return for accepting it might head off some confusion. She might think it’s obvious or not worth mentioning until it’s pointed out.”
“This is why I don’t know about any of this,” Nicki said.
“Are you sorry it happened?”
“That’s the strange thing,” she said. “I’m still glad it happened… even when I thought she was looking at me like I was a bug she’d stepped on, even if I’d just blown my top and told her to fuck if… which I almost did… like, I might have wished it had ended differently, but if I could have gone back in time and undo the weekend, I don’t think I would have. It’s not just that I finally got laid and it was good, it’s… I don’t know. Okay, it is just that, but it’s not just that. Like, I think I’d be more okay with not getting laid, with not having anybody for a while, because of it… I think I could be more confident and secure about it now, which might make it easier to get someone in the future, but also less important? I’m probably not making any sense.”
“…the feelings make sense, even if the words don’t,” I said.
“And I’m glad it worked out like this,” she said, not quite stifling a yawn. “Where you’re the first one who found out, I mean. That seems… right.”
“You sound sleepy,” I said.
“You have no idea,” she said. “I think we dozed off a bit at least once, but I think I’m more behind on sleep than I was on food.”
“I should probably let you sleep,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “I guess I’ll see you in class on Tuesday… oh, that’s tomorrow now, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Tomorrow is Tuesday. And you know, I mean it when I say you’re welcome to hang out with me anytime.”
“I know,” she said. “And you know what? I probably will.”