350: Firming Up

on February 10, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Mackenzie Goes Down In The Carriage

We got to the carriage stop just as a pair of them were picking up a large group of people. Amaranth tugged on my coat sleeve.

“You wouldn’t mind waiting for the next one, would you, baby?” she asked.

“No,” I said, relieved. Another group of people could come along, of course, but I’d take the chance of scoring an empty coach versus squishing in with the departing dinner crowd. “I don’t mind.”

We sat down on the little covered bench and I huddled up against Amaranth. I couldn’t feel her warmth through my coat and clothes, but she lessened the chill of the air. A light, misty rain began to fall shortly after we sat down. It didn’t make the wait any more pleasant, but it might have helped keep anybody else from coming along and waiting for a ride.

We got into an empty coach and Amaranth sat down on the bench while I half-stood in the middle, pulling my wet coat off. It wasn’t exactly dripping, but it was warm inside and I didn’t want that barrier between us. The coach lurched forward and I swayed a little before deciding to just go with it and sat down sideways in the aisle between the two benches.

Amaranth didn’t want to push me into a submissive mode, but she was looking for reassurance about our relationship… and nobody had ever made a big deal out of me sitting on the floor, that had just felt right to me ever since I started with Ian.

I could have sat on her lap, but that was automatic mindless comfort. This was a signal, I hoped… it told Amaranth exactly where I stood, so to speak.

It seemed to work. She’d reached out to steady me when I first started to stumble, then when she realized what I was doing she looked confused for a moment, and then she smiled. She sat up straighter and arranged herself so that I was between her legs, and we rode out away from campus in silence, simply basking in each other.

I wasn’t about to take off my clothes inside the carriage… it would be just my luck not to notice when we got to town and then we’d get stopped for something… but in my mind, I was naked, laid bare before her. Amaranth’s body had nothing to hide from me, and I could hide nothing from her.

I realized that in my head, I was continuing to make up my mind before I even knew what the surprise would be… I was pushing myself further and further into that place of subservience and passiveness.

Was it really pushing if I did it myself, though?

Or was that more like just walking, casually strolling into that place ?

Amaranth had asked me what I wanted, after our first fight, and I’d told her: to be hers. She’d directed much of what came after that, but it had been my choice. I had changed… was still changing… since then… but that essential truth remained.

I wanted Amaranth to be as patient and understanding with me as I knew she could be, and I wanted her to be less concerned about who came up with each idea, but I wanted her and I wanted to be hers, metaphorical warts and all.

Was seventeen years of not-particularly-worldly experience enough to prepare her for the kind of relationship we wanted? Probably not… but I’d known people who got married out of high school. That was legally binding and usually led to… or was preceded by… children.

Our fuck-ups were our own to make, and experience had to come from somewhere.

“Did you… did you have a good afternoon?” she asked me after a few minutes of reflective silence.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Um…”

“Yes, baby?”

This seemed like the right opening to talk about the mermaids while we were isolated from even passing ears, but I wasn’t sure how to open.

If there was an actual imminent threat… like, Feejee and Iona were stalking up behind her… then obviously the thing to do would be to yell, “Lookout!” As it was, there was just a lot of talk… and even though it had become increasingly clear that the mermaids longed for something more, maybe that was all it would ever be.

Maybe they were coping with the ongoing temptation by immersing themselves… no pun intended… in an elaborate and improbably fantasy scenario. If I went crying shark over that… well, the consequences would be about the same as what I’d warned Feejee of if she acted, only it would be my fault.

And maybe that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Mermaids in their natural habitat were a danger to humanity. Feejee and Iona weren’t innocent there… except in the sense of being innocent of the particular instance I would be accusing them of.

If I was going to be honest with myself, that was the hold-up for me… if knowing that Feejee was a member of a human-eating race and had eaten human flesh in the past was enough to condemn her for what could be idle talk and my feeling intimidated, then what of me?

“Mack?” Amaranth prompted.

“Um…” I said again, for lack of anything more organized or articulate.

“What is it, baby?” Amaranth prompted.

“I had lunch with Feejee,” I said.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she said. “I really think that the more we socialize with Feejee, and the more we encourage her to socialize with others, the more likely she’ll stop looking at her fellow beings as a source of food. You know, when they’re not willing.”

“Maybe,” I said. I gathered my nerve… this was too important for me to back down. We were alone. I was sitting with my legs drawn up, between hers. I could hardly have asked for a more secure position. I could do this. I could be firm and say what I needed to say. “But,” I began again, “you have to remember, she was hanging out with people more human than us before, and they didn’t seem to change her mind any.”

“Maybe not,” Amaranth said. “But… I think there are some good signs.”

“Amaranth…” I said, and I took a deep breath. “You need to realize that Feejee really wants to eat me.”

“I know,” she said, nodding. “And I’m proud that you’ve used that as the basis of a healthy playful relationship with her… you’ve taken something that could have been terrible and turned it into something sexy and fun, and I think that’s wonderful.”

“But she isn’t interested in the ‘just pretend’ stuff anymore,” I said. “She and Iona have started talking about how to do it for real… I think they’re sort of serious.”

Sort of serious, or serious?” Amaranth asked, very seriously.

“Um… sort of serious, but leaning towards getting more serious?” I said. I didn’t want her to write this off but I didn’t want her to go too far in the other direction, either. “Feejee knows the repercussions could be huge… and I think Iona must, too, or else I don’t believe she’d restrain herself at all… but I think they’re trying to convince each other that they really could pull it off and get away with it.”

“Well, they have to realize that’s impossible,” Amaranth said.

“I’ve been telling Feejee that,” I said. “But when I try to point out why, she acts like I’m… I don’t know, troubleshooting or something.”

Amaranth laughed.

“I don’t think it’s funny,” I said.

“Sorry,” she said. “The situation isn’t… it really, truly isn’t. But the image kind of was.”

“Well… you should remember that one of the main reasons it’s impossible is you,” I said. “Feejee actually asked me if I knew how to, uh, get rid of you.”

“What did you say?”

“I… well… I blurted out something about your field before I stopped myself,” I said. “But I made sure she knows it’s far away and protected.”

“Baby, honesty’s a virtue, but you’ve got to learn to control yourself a little better,” Amaranth said.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, remembering the other thing I had to tell her about the lunch with Feejee. I ducked my head. “In the same conversation, I kind of… lost my temper and raised my voice a bit.”

“Was this in public?” she asked.

“Pretty much… it was the lunch room, but it wasn’t very crowded,” I said.

She sighed.

“Well… under the circumstances, I guess a little anger is understandable,” Amaranth said. “But do you understand why it would have been very bad if that conversation had attracted public attention?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, ducking down lower.

“If Feejee meant you harm maliciously and was cunning about it, acting hostile to her like that could have played into her hands. Anyway, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to have any more discussions with Feejee about this… it might just encourage her. I’ll talk to her, instead. Maybe we can come to… to some kind of an understanding.”

I snorted.

“Now what’s funny?” Amaranth asked.

“You sound like Feejee,” I said. “She wants to know why people can’t compromise with her on the whole ‘being eaten’ thing. I don’t think this is the kind of thing where it’s possible to meet halfway.”

“A compromise doesn’t always mean meeting exactly in the middle,” Amaranth said. “It just means finding the ground where you both can stand. If one side’s on shakier ground to begin with, they’re going to have to move a lot more… but if it takes a gesture or a word or a gift to make them see that, why not?”

“Should people need a gesture before they agree not to do horrible things to each other?” I asked. “I’m glad I get the benefit of the doubt, so I try to give Feejee the same… but I don’t see why I should have to reason with somebody if they really want to kill me.”

“But you’re doing it,” she said.

“Well, so far, she doesn’t want to enough to actually do it,” I said.

“You know me, baby… I don’t think anybody should hurt anybody,” Amaranth said. “But if a gesture is what it takes to get somebody to stop behaving unreasonably, is it reasonable to withhold it?”

“‘Behaving unreasonably’,” I said. “That’s one way of putting it. Well… if you approach her, just remember for now that Feejee is looking at you as the reason she can’t just do whatever she wants with me.”

“Thank you for your concern, baby, but she really can’t do anything to me… and maybe if I can offer her a better alternative, she won’t bother trying.”

I didn’t have anything else to really say on the subject, so I sat there and nodded.

“I’m still going to punish you for raising your voice, of course,” Amaranth said, looking down at me over her glasses, and I felt my bottom tingling. How was it that the same gesture could be used to convey pride and disappointment all at once?

Amaranth pulled me up off the floor into her arms as the carriage approached the city walls, and she held me on her lap as we passed through the screening spells, stroking my hair and whispering soothingly as I went rigid.

“Would you like to get dinner first, or go straight to the store?” she asked when we disembarked. The air was cold and wet, but water at least did not seem to be falling so much as simply being present.

“Let’s go to the store,” I said, wanting to… not get over it or on with it or anything else that might have implied I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I wasn’t, but I wasn’t dreading it, either. That was the thing about a surprise. I wouldn’t know how to take it until we were there and I saw what she had in mind… and after that, maybe we’d have some big thing to talk about. Until then, it was just me not knowing and her not saying. So, I preferred to minimize the part of the evening where I was in the dark.

Amaranth had a better head for the layout of the market quarter than I did. We skirted the bazaar… I wasn’t sure if she was trying to avoid it or just get to Caron’s shop faster… and we found the little door in the side of a corner building with runes over it that opened onto steps descending into the ground.

“Howdy,” Caron called from behind the stone counter as we entered. The shop wasn’t quite empty, though far from crowded.

“Hi!” Amaranth said, pulling me across the store towards her. “I don’t know if you remember us…”

“Oh, you know, I get so many giant naked women in here… Steff’s friend, right?” she said to Amaranth, looking her down and up. She turned to me. “Is that your toy under there?”

“It is,” Amaranth said, putting her hands around me from behind and opening my coat. “She’s why we’re here, actually… and I want you to know that I offered her a choice of shops and she picked yours.”

“Oh?” Caron said.

“Yes,” Amaranth said. “We’re looking for something to sort of… firm up… or celebrate… our relationship. Would you mind very much showing us what you have in collars?”

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6 Responses to “350: Firming Up”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Now why did the term “white collar crime” be the first thing to spring into my mind? What a lack of imagination.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    And this is pretty much why Amy’s speech last chapter pissed me off- i know it wasn’t designed by Amy to rid Mack of any choices she could make, but people who would know how to coerce and bully others would have said pretty much the exact same things she did. She pretty much has become Puddy v2.

    Current score: 1
  3. Psi-Ko says:

    And thus my prophetic ability to call the next big surprise from 2 or 3 chapters back remains!

    Current score: 1
    • mugasofer says:

      Well, once she said “pet shops” …

      Damn, it could have been a leash, couldn’t it? That would have fit perfectly …

      Current score: 6
      • Kanta says:

        Well a leash isn’t much use until you have a collar to attach it to, though I admit I thought they’d be getting both.

        Current score: 3
  4. nobody says:

    My guess was a collar and 50/50 on the leash.

    Current score: 0