Chapter 240: There And Back Again

on August 21, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Sends Mackenzie Away

I said goodnight to Glory outside Gilcrease, and then went straight up to Ian’s room. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure he’d be there, but I could always come back later if he was out. Since I couldn’t come back earlier, it just made sense to try there first.

I heard the sound of his weight shifting on the bed as soon as I had knocked. He didn’t hurry over towards the door or anything. I could just make out the sound of the soles of his shoes scraping the bare tile as he barely lifted them. An image formed in my head of a tired Ian, weighed down as much by events as by physical fatigue.

There was no additional hesitation when he got to the door, though. My mental image didn’t stop to check the peephole.

“Hey,” he said when it was open enough for him to actually see that it was me.

“Hey,” I said. “I, uh, wanted to talk.”

“Is this a ‘you should come inside’ type conversation?” he asked.

“I don’t… yeah, probably, I think so,” I said. The question had tripped me up because I hadn’t thought about it, but it didn’t actually take a lot of thought. “I actually have a couple of different things to tell you about. The first one starts with an apology.”

“…I’m not sure I want to hear it,” he said.

“What? I thought leading with that would help,” I said, confused.

“I just… I hate to think you’ve done anything else that you feel the need to apologize for in the past couple of days,” he said.

“No, this is… it’s not anything new,” I said. “I just… I’ve got some new perspective, and I feel like I understand where you’re coming from better. That’s all.”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s not bad… actually, that’s a lot better than I expected. Anyway… I guess you’d better come inside.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“The thing is… okay, I figure that you probably don’t want the moment-by-moment update of where things stand with Glory,” I said.

“To be honest, I don’t need to know that there are things and whether or not they’re standing,” he said. “Unless we’re talking, you know… final disposition.”

“Definitely nothing final!” I said quickly. “But the thing is, while talking things over with her, and with Amaranth… I did kind of have a moment of insight about the fact that I’ve been taking you for granted, and not really doing the necessary maintenance and upkeep on our relationship… on any of my relationships, really. I mean, I know I’ve been busy, which is both part of the problem and part of the explanation for the problem…”

“It’s more than just busy,” he said. “You’ve been kind of… really focused. First on the thing with Acantha, and then Glory.”

“That was supposed to be a good thing,” I said. “A way for me to be less flighty, less scattered.”

“The thing is… when you were scattered, I felt like more of your pieces were landing on me,” he said.

“That is a really weird metaphor,” I said.

“You know what I mean,” he said. “When you’re not focused, it didn’t matter that you weren’t focused on me.”

“I get it,” I said. “I think… maybe I’ve overdone it, or done it wrong. The focusing on one thing at a time thing. Maybe I just didn’t have enough experience, or maybe it’s just not me… I mean, it’s never been me before, but I wanted to believe it was a skill I could learn.”

“Well, maybe it is,” Ian said. “I mean, even if it is ‘just how you are’, maybe that is just a lack of experience… or maybe your experience has just prepared you in the wrong direction. Or whatever. The point is, I doubt you have some kind of elemental weakness to focusing.”

“I don’t know, time management in general seems to get past my invulnerability pretty easily,” I said. “I mean, I’ve been doing better at that… especially when I’m managing someone else’s schedule for her, that weirdly makes it easier… but it comes at a cost, and I’m starting to wonder if the cost is actually worth it.”

“So… is the second thing that you’re thinking about quitting the whole personal assistant/agent thing?” he asked, a hopeful note creeping into his voice.

“Uh…” I said.

As soon as he’d said it, I could see where he would have formed that impression from what I was saying. I’d hoped that telling him that I knew I’d neglected him and understood how he felt would make him more inclined to take my other bit of news well, but now it seemed like I’d have to disappoint him.

“Mackenzie,” he prompted. “I’m a big boy. Come out and say it.”

“It’s just… the other thing I thought you should know,” I said, “is that I’ve decided to actually go out with Glory.”

“Well… I told you to figure out what you wanted,” he said, in tones so measured you could have used his voice as a ruler. “I guess this means you’ve made up your mind?”

“I haven’t made up mind about anything,” I said. “You wanted me to figure out what I wanted… I still don’t know what I want in the long term or if I really want a relationship with Glory, but I know I that I want to try it, and that I’m not likely to know more than that until I do.”

“I see,” he said.

“I would have asked you first, but I didn’t have the impression that you’d want to be in that position.”

“No… probably not,” he said. “I mean, I told you that I don’t want to be the one to veto what you want.”

“You also made it sound like it wouldn’t necessarily be a dealbreaker for you if I end up with her,” I reminded him. “As long as I have time for you. I mean, I know you said no promises, but I just… I want you to understand that I’m not choosing trying things out with her over staying with you.”

“I get that,” he said. “And I think… I think I possibly could be cool with it, if you mean what you said before.”

“About understanding your point of view, and realizing how I’ve taken you for granted?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m just wondering… I mean, the thing I’m a little hung-up on is that I keep thinking about you with Glory, and I wonder if this how you go from mostly committed poly relationships to completely open ones? Because I don’t know if I can be in for that.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I don’t… I’m not interested in dating everybody. This is really just one thing, specific to Glory.”

“I don’t think anybody is interested in everybody,” Ian said. “Well, anybody who’s not like a nymph or something. But… even if it’s just Glory now, there’s kind of a precedent here, isn’t there? You weren’t looking to date anyone else until you met someone you were interested in, and now you’re looking to go out with her.”

“Is that really so wrong, though?” I asked. “I mean, assuming that we can make it work with everybody, why shouldn’t we go after the things that we want? I mean, yeah, there’s such a thing as being spread too thin, but why put arbitrary limits on it? Can’t we just trust each other to know our limits?”

“Mackenzie… do you trust yourself to know your limits, when it comes to that?”

“I… okay, I don’t actually trust myself to know my limits when it comes to most things,” I said. “And I guess maybe that’s the point of arbitrary limits, that you can’t come up with a limit any other way… but I don’t know, Ian, I think the fact that I have so much angst over getting entangled with another person… doesn’t that suggest that I’m aware of where my limits are?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I guess it means you’re aware that there is a limit, but I think there would be less angst if you actually did know where it is.”

“Well, I’m working on it,” I said. “That’s pretty much what you told me to do. What more do you want?”

“What we had,” he said. “Whatever it might have grown into, if you hadn’t met someone else… I don’t know, Mackenzie. I’m tired and I’m pissed off, and I’m tired. I know I said that twice. Was there anything else you needed to tell me?”

“No,” I said. “I just… I wanted you to know that I’m getting closer to wherever it is I’m heading.”

“That’s great,” he said. “Let me know where it is, when you get there.”

“Okay, goodnight,” I said.

I said that instead of what I wanted to say, because I was a little bit afraid of what Ian might have said if I’d told him that I loved him, in that moment.

“Goodnight,” he said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said, relieved that he’d said it first, and then he closed the door, and I… fled. It was the only word for it, really. I was in full retreat from the weight of Ian’s emotions.

I had no idea how things had gone so badly, or rather, I had no idea why I had thought they would go well. Of course he’d want to hear that I didn’t want to take him for granted, but that was a baseline expectation, not a reason for celebration or gratitude.

It seemed like what he really wanted… what he would really be hoping for, for as long as it seemed possible to hope for… was that I’d make up my mind in a way that brought things back to normal.

Amaranth was waiting when I got back to her room… our room. She had that look on her face that was both patient and expectant at the same time.

“Did you find Ian, baby?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m starting to understand why he said there were no promises.”

“What do you mean, baby?” she asked.

“It’s just… I feel like the break he decided we should take is making him impatient, and me doing the soul-searching he asked me to do is just pushing him away,” I said. “At the same time, he’s so… understanding. I mean, he can be petty and snippy about things along the way, but he’s not… I don’t know. He doesn’t seem angry. Even when he thinks things are going completely against him, he sounds more tired than anything.”

“Tired isn’t good,” Amaranth said.

“Maybe not tired, but… resigned?”

“Resignation isn’t really better.”

“Maybe… maybe it’s a mistake, keeping your distance from him.”

“It’s what he wants,” I said.

“It’s what he came up with, in lieu of knowing what he wants,” Amaranth said. “Baby, I’m not about to suggest that you force your presence on anyone, for love or any other reason… but it’s worth raising the possibility that things aren’t going the way he expected when he laid this all out, isn’t it? I mean, he told you there could be no promises because he couldn’t predict or control his emotional responses, or how things might change… but isn’t this also something that could change?”

“I guess,” I said. “But what am I supposed to do? Even if he’s not happy with the way things are, I don’t think he’ll be any more thrilled about hanging out when I’m talking about Glory, or tagging along when I go over to Oberrad House, or whatever.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that,” Amaranth said. “Maybe what you need is… Ian time. Him time. I mean, you couldn’t figure out what you wanted from Glory without actually trying things out with her… so how are you two supposed to figure out what you want from each other if you’re ignoring each other?”

“You… have a point,” I said. “But I’m not sure how to get from where we are now to where you’re talking about.”

“You tell him,” Amaranth said. “Tell him that he doesn’t seem happy with the current arrangement and that you think it might be making things worse. Tell him that you’re worried that if things continue on as they are, then the two of you will end up falling apart regardless of who wants what, and you don’t think either of you want that.”

“That’s… actually, that’s really good,” I said. It was pretty much exactly what I’d been afraid of, though I hadn’t been able to put it into words. “Where did you get all of it from, though?”

“Listening to you, baby,” she said. “And… well, I know you, and I know Ian.”

“But still, I think it might be weird if I go knock on his door tomorrow with another update, given how we left things.”

“How did you leave things?”

I tried to think of how to describe it.

“I don’t think we left things in a good place, is all,” I said.

“That’s all the more reason not to leave them there!” Amaranth said. “Baby, forget what I said about spending the night with me… I can have you any night, and of course I’ll be here if Ian’s not in the mood for company, or if things don’t go well, or if you’re not comfortable staying… but I think you need to march your cute butt back around the floor and let Ian know that you’re still there for him.”

“You mean, I should spend the night with him?”

“If he wants it, I think it could be just what he needs,” Amaranth said. “What you… plural you… need.”

“…I don’t know if I can actually do that,” I said. “I could barely face him at the end of our last conversation, honestly.”

“I understand, baby,” Amaranth said.

“Thank you.”

“But even if it turns out that you can’t… don’t you think it’s worth trying anyway, for Ian?”

“…you’re right,” I said.

“My favorite words,” she said. “Get on over there, baby, and take care of your business.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and I headed back out of the room and towards Ian’s door.

The walk seemed longer, going back there than it had been coming from it. This was possible. Gilcrease was no Emily, but it was a tower. The intrinsic magical field of the place was more intense than the background energy levels of an ordinary building, and sometimes that did funny things with dimensions.

Fortunately, it gave me time to compose myself and to think about what I was going to say. Less fortunately, I spent that time dreading disturbing Ian again and wondering what I would even say when he answered the door… if he answered the door. By the time I got there, I was convinced that he wouldn’t, and not more sure of what I’d do if he did.

“Forget something?” was his opening line, and I found I had even less to say to that.


“Mackenzie, I’m tired,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. It’s just, the thing is… the thing is… I’m worried. About… us.”

“In other words, you’ve been paying attention,” he said.

“I know there’s a lot to worry about,” I said. “But specifically, I’m worried that the way we’re going, with this whole break thing… it’s going to end up making our minds up for us. I think if we don’t just sort of drift apart, then we’ll end up pushing each other away… just like we did earlier. We’re not communicating, which means that when I have something to tell you, I don’t know where to begin. And you… you don’t have anything but your imagination to go on, for what’s going on in my life. It’s no wonder you were so quick to jump to the worst possible conclusions about what it meant, when I said I wanted to try things with Glory.”

“Believe me, those aren’t the worst things I’ve imagined lately,” he said. “Anyway, you came back here to tell me this?”

“It’s just down the hall,” I said. “Well, around the hall. You know.”

“Still,” he said. “I figured you would be going to bed.”

“I was,” I said. “With Amaranth.”

“…and she sent you here, did she?”

“Ian, I’m not going to lie and say this wasn’t her idea,” I said. “But… it’s not something she pushed me into doing, and it’s not something I don’t want to do. This is… I was unhappy about how we left things. Worried. Amaranth… she addressed those worries.”

“And her solution was sex,” Ian said. “Big surprise there.”

“Her solution was to give up her night with me so I could go to you,” I said. “She didn’t tell me what to do with it.”

“I told you, I don’t want to fuck you just because I’m angry,” he said.

“Are you angry”?” I asked.

“…kind of,” he said.

“But that’s not the reason I’m here,” I said. “And if you decide to let me in, it doesn’t have to be the reason for that, either. Can’t you fuck me because I want it? Because you want it, angry or not?”

“But the whole thing with Glory is so unsettled,” he said.

“And it’s going to keep being unsettled,” I said. “I mean, now I’m dating Glory to see if I like it, but where’s that end? There’s not going to be a certain point where we just get past the tipping point and we’re definitely going to be together forever. Even if it turned out we were somehow perfect for each other… she could change. I could change.”

“I could change,” Ian said. “So every relationship is a constant audition? I don’t want to believe that.”

“I don’t know that I do,” I said. “But… things end. Even good things.”

“And now we’re talking about endings again,” he said.

“We don’t have to,” I said. “You could invite me in.”

“You were never this… forward, before Acantha,” he said. “And Glory.”

“I suppose that’s part of why you don’t approve of the way I’ve been spending my time this semester,” I said.

“No, actually… I think I’m starting to appreciate it,” he said. “It used to be that someone would have to push you to get you to this point, and you’d do it, but you’d act… pushed. Now, you say that it’s Amaranth’s idea, but I can tell that you want it.”

“Honestly, I didn’t want to come back,” I said. “Because I didn’t know what to say. But… I didn’t want to leave before, either. I just…”

“Didn’t know what to say?”

“Yeah,” I said. “So…”


“Are you asking me to come in?”

“Get in,” he said.

He was definitely not asking.

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38 Responses to “Chapter 240: There And Back Again”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    Giving Ian his space wasn’t giving anyone what they wanted and now they might sort this out. Now isn’t Ian rooming with 3 other guys? are they out or is Ian just on door duty?

    Current score: 10
  2. D. D. Webb says:

    Mack’s various relationships are starting to look like a game of Tetris. Every time she gets a piece into the right place, it’s at the cost of creating a mess that’s going to be trouble down the line.

    All things considered, though, I’m glad to see Ian’s not out of the running. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s the least insufferable of her paramours.

    Current score: 8
    • Brenda A. says:

      More like a game of Jenga…

      Current score: 4
      • D. D. Webb says:

        You know, that was actually my first thought but for some reason the analogy just didn’t seem right to me.

        Current score: 1
      • Oni says:


        Current score: 2
      • Miz*G says:

        It’s really more like hangman… she’s getting letters right at the same rate as she’s getting then wrong, so depending how long the word is she’ll either work it out or tighten the noose.

        Current score: 0
  3. JerK says:

    Bleh… my enjoyable break from Ian didn’t last very long.

    Current score: 7
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Come on he doesn’t do much unless he’s needed by the plot, just pretend Steff says all his lines. Unless AE has been hinting at Ian taking over owner dutys from Amamath. If so you may have a problem.

      Current score: 1
      • Mack says:

        I like your solution, except Steff is less of an angsty strait man.

        AE knows we don’t like Ian, so I don’t think she would do that to us.

        Current score: 1
        • Order of Chaos says:

          Ian has his fans (I’m one) and Amaranth had her haters. AE used the book one/two break to move Amaranth away from what people didn’t like about her and may be set to do the same with Ian.

          Current score: 1
          • Glenn says:

            If AE wanted to move Ian away from what people didn’t like about him, she’d do something to make him a more interesting character. If he became a Bardic Arts major and started a new band with Victor, that would make me more interested in him. So far though, all AE has done with Ian in this arc is have him whine about how unhappy he is that Mack has other interests both professional and romantic that prevent her from devoting all her free time to him.

            Current score: 1
            • Order of Chaos says:

              Only about an hour till we find out what happens next. Maybe we’ll find out that he’s going to do just that.

              Current score: 0
            • adsipowe says:

              not so much “all” as “any” ae seems more like noticed forgot about his character for ahwile and had to bring him back sort of deal.

              personally i’d want mac to just drop ALL of them and start fresh with celia the snake girl 😛 see how that works out for the plot

              either that or just become a celibate study machine so i could see the worldbuilding from class again since that all vanished

              Current score: 0
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Mental images
    Don’t stop to check the peephole
    Or try the doorknob

    Current score: 4
  5. Trent Baker aka Zergonapal says:

    Tired isn’t good,” Amaranth said.

    “Maybe not tired, but… resigned?”

    “Resignation isn’t really better.”

    “Maybe… maybe it’s a mistake, keeping your distance from him.”

    “It’s what he wants,” I said.

    …ummm something is missing here.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      The double Amaranth line is causing trouble. Either Mackenzie needs an extra line, or it needs a . . . Amaranth said. . . between her lines, and make it one paragraph.

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        Typo Report

        “Thank you,” I said.

        “The thing is… okay, I figure that you probably don’t want the moment-by-moment update of where things stand with Glory,” I said.

        Not only is this Mackenzie speaking in two consecutive paragraphs with nothing in between, but this is also where Mack should be coming into Ian’s room. It would perhaps be good to put something in there that shows Mack transitioning into Ian’s room, maybe even give us readers a little bit of an idea what his current living situation is like this year. I don’t think we’ve gotten a look at Ian’s room so far this year, have we?

        “When you’re not focused, it didn’t matter that you weren’t focused on me.”

        Ian switches from present tense to past tense in the space of a single sentence. It would read better if he picked a tense and stuck with it.

        Current score: 1
        • Burnsidhe says:

          “When you were” truncates to “When you’re”. This is grammatically correct, if awkward when reading it. But it’s perfectly fine in dialog.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            Wouldn’t “When you weren’t focused” make more sense? I see how it may be technically valid grammatically, though I don’t see Ian saying it like that. I don’t think I have ever heard someone form a contraction from “You were” but from “Were not” is common.

            It’s Ian talking, so I wouldn’t expect that kind of weirdness. If it was Dee I could see her not realizing the technically correct grammar was awkward.

            Current score: 3
  6. Courtney says:

    Any update on how the classes with Coach Callahan are going, those are some of my favourites. I really do love the fighting scenes.

    Current score: 0
  7. zeel says:

    That title, I could swear you already used that reference before.

    Current score: 0
  8. Glenn says:

    When Mack talks with Amaranth, she gets some real help, because Amaranth has some insights that Mack lacks. By contrast, I don’t see Mack getting anything out of her conversations with Ian. Ian incorrectly thinks that Amaranth believes that sex is the solution to Mack and Ian’s problem, when actually she’s trying to encourage netter communications. But does anyone think that Mack and Ian are going to have a beneficial discussion that gives them new insights into their lives in the next chapter? Or are they just going to have sex? I’m pretty sure it’s just going to be sex, because I don’t think Ian has much to say to Mack that’s very useful. And that’s because they have so little in common besides sex.

    Current score: 7
    • Nocker says:

      The real problem is that Amy doesn’t realize she sees the whole process differently. Hell, these three have VASTLY different sensory perceptions and aren’t taking that into account. Amy can see desires and fetishes out of hand while the other two can’t. Mack can see …things that were never clearly given boundaries but there’s an obvious sexual element to it given she can sense virginity. Ian is just a regular baseline human who can’t really keep up.

      Mack is pretty bad about recognizing this unless she’s making active efforts to do it.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        I don’t think Mackenzie’s senses are any more attuned to sex than a human. Her ability to smell virginity is more about food than anything else.

        Current score: 3
        • Nocker says:

          Hence them being vastly different. Amy goes under intent, Mack goes for food.

          We have no idea if demon senses differ between individual. The non-virgin eaters might have the same sense as well as something for their own food source, and vice versa.

          Really Mackenzie has tried exploring a little of what she can do, but never really gone into it in depth.

          Current score: 0
          • Order of Chaos says:

            Well Mack admited she may be overdoing the one thing at a time thing so we may get more.

            Current score: 0
    • Matt Doyle says:

      Agreed. Honestly, as far as I can tell, Ian and Mack have *never* had anything going for their relationship except the purely physical. They rub each other the wrong way constantly – if there’s been a chapter where they got along, either I don’t remember it or it was them uniting in their worst tendencies, knee-jerk reactionary rejection of things, petulance and bad temper…

      Speaking from experience, good sex is a bad foundation for a relationship unless there’s something else going on.

      Current score: 7
      • zeel says:

        They rub eachother either the wrong way. . . Or the good way. . .

        Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I’m actually hoping they just cuddle and enjoy being close to each other for some quality time.

      Current score: 4
  9. tijay says:


    Current score: 0
  10. Poe says:

    I’m actually really identifying with Ian here. I was in a (non-poly) relationship where it wasn’t really working, and both of us sort of knew it, but every time we tried to talk about it, or about feelings in general, we just ended up fighting or having sex. Or both.
    The person I was dating would go and talk to his very open, sweet, wonderful, sexually-liberated friend after we had fights. Amaranth reminds me of her quite a bit actually. She would calm him down and they would come up with things he could say to me. She was also quite attracted to him and wanted a relationship with him herself.
    Eventually, she sort of coached him into the idea that he could date both her and me at the same time. To her, it wasn’t much of a problem. She was already married and in an open relationship. She never tried to talk to me about any of it, just told him what to say to me.
    I was uncomfortable with the idea, and I told him so. He kept pushing it. I told him I’d have to think about it. Logically, it made sense. I lived far away and we couldn’t be together very often. But the more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn’t the right answer for me. It seemed like the thread that would unravel everything rather than the one tying everything together.
    I felt like a terrible person for being unable to share my boyfriend with someone else. He kept pushing and eventually it came out that he’d already had sex with her anyway. Around that point, I just decided I’d had enough and got the hell out.

    Anyway, I think Ian is justified in feeling a little betrayed here. Even though the situation is different from mine, the sense of betrayal at adding someone unexpected to the equation feels the same.

    Current score: 0
    • spess imvader says:

      Add to that the factor that Ian is male, and I don’t see how their relationship can survive, unless he becomes a sub. As a general principle boys don’t share, cognitive psychology and evolutionism explain it.

      Current score: 0
  11. Mack says:

    Amy is a know it all. I might would like having her for a metamour, maybe, but I wouldn’t date her. No matter what Mack says, she pushed her.

    Current score: 1
  12. zeel says:

    Just noticed we are only $43 away from the ad-free perk on Patreon. Just a few more sponsors and it will be there!

    Edit: Wow the anchor style in the comments isn’t very noticeable is it.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      MU was the second site I disabled Adblock on. I like feeling I’m contributing something so I usually click on the new ones to see where they go.
      What is anchor style? I don’t know the term.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        An anchor is the HTML element used for creating hyperlinks. In my comment the word “Patreon” is a link to her page on that site. However given the styles used for this page, it’s indistinguishable from the rest of the text – so it looks like any other word. This is not the typical behavior, though it may be intended to combat spam by making links essentially invisible.

        Current score: 0
  13. scifi_chic says:

    “I wonder if this how you go from mostly committed poly relationships to completely open ones” – if this is how?

    Current score: 0