DISCLAIMER: X-Men and Criminal Minds belong to their creators and anyone else with a legal right to their use and abuse. The title is derived from a poem: "The State of Virginia After Southampton: 1831," by Geoffrey Brock.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: None. This is way too wildly AU.
Emily's Notebooks: The Christmas Revolution
I just ran, not looking where I was going. I saw the footman's uniform before I hit, but I couldn't dodge, and crashed into the row of pale buttons. Hands caught my wrists and kept me from falling.
The hand was dark blue with only three massive ugly digits and long curved yellow nails. I looked up, for a moment expecting it to be the doctor, but this mutant's face was darker and narrow, with a pointy chin, pointed ears, and pupil-less glowing yellow eyes.
I recoiled in fear and disgust.
"Excuse me, Miss!"
His accent was thick and German, and he was polite and looked worried. I started to cry. It seemed that the ones who looked like demons were kind, and ones who looked like the ones who looked like Emma had demons inside.
"Ja, please, do not " His eyes widened. "You are bleeding." He offered me a handkerchief held between two claw-like nails. I took it and pressed it to my face, slumping to my knees.
He was right. I was bleeding from inside my mouth. My lip had caught on my teeth when my mistress had hit me.
So much for promising she wouldn't hurt me.
I wiped my face and offered it wanly back to him. He wouldn't take it. His strange hands, which would be more fitting on a dinosaur, waved it away. Instead he crouched down in front of me and asked if I was all right. I was ashamed of crying. What reason did I have? Rejection? Wasn't rejection better than having to serve that? Having to bury my head between her legs and choke on it
Even with a face like a demon, his skepticism was clear.
"I'm fine," I said harshly. Speaking like that to a mutant would have gotten me shot in Moscow, but I didn't care anymore.
He looked slightly hurt and embarrassed. "Then will you help me? I am ze new footman, ja? But I was instructed to introduce myself to the mistress of the house. I am lost."
I stared at him for a moment. What were the other footmen trying to do to him, sending him to Emma's rooms when I was supposed to be there, right after her bath? I wondered if mutants hated the ones who looked different as much as humans did.
"I wouldn't go now. She's not in a good mood. I would wait until tomorrow."
Then I stood, and started towards the stairs.
"Danke, Miss," he called after me. But I didn't turn back.
He was new. Perhaps he thought me a mutant servant. It would be strange to be mistaken for a mutant, but the shirt I wore disguised the brands on my back.
That week was the only time I seriously considered running away. Suicide by sentinel. The metal beasts had been reprogrammed to hunt humans without a letter of marque, a chip in a card that was remote controlled by their master. If the slave did not turn up at the expected time and place, the marque was turned off, and the sentinels would find him. Although the sentinels were programmed to capture, sometimes they had a hard time differentiating between capture and kill.
It was pointless to run away, because there was nowhere to run to.
But it felt pointless to stay. What did I have to live for? What future did I have here? I was a slave who wasn't allowed to work. 'Worthless' was a kind epithet for me.
Even JJ tried to stay out of my way. I was angry and unhappy, but I couldn't do anything. If I tried to join a group, they would turn their backs, and create an unbreachable rank.
I stopped going to the refectory to eat. I couldn't deal with the way they would turn from me. If I left something to mark my place, sometimes would come back to find it shoved to the center and all the seats filled. Other times I would ask if I could sit in an empty place and be flatly rejected.
I didn't leave my bed. There was nothing to leave it for. I had never realized before that nothingness and indecision were such a heavy weight.
But finally I realized it had gone on too long. They could hate me for as long as they wanted, but I couldn't hate myself anymore. I didn't deserve this. I had done what I was told to do, no more and no less.
During the pre-dinner morning shift I stole into Aaron's room and waited for him. I wandered around his room while I knew he was eating dinner. It was larger than the other slave quarters, and his alone. He had a desk, schedules carefully written out in his neat handwriting, piles of notes, mostly complaints, and some evaluations. To my surprise he had someone reporting back from every crew, rating the workers' morale, how hard they worked, how much they could reasonably do. He kept a file on everyone. A short list was on the corner of the table, "reasonable for replacement" it read. There were four names on it. One was mine.
I felt my heart stop for an interminable moment. It was like wearing a for sale sign. I didn't understand why I felt so horrified by the idea, because I had thought about being sold many times in the past week. But imagining being sold was different from the reality of it.
Most slaves rejected from household service ended up in pools of laborers who worked mines, or farms, or construction. If they were sold on the black market, it was easy to end up in a brothel or being used for scientific testing. Other rumors suggested worse fates, but there was no real way to imagine what could happen to you after your records disappeared and according to society you did not exist.
I found my file. More than half the reports were critical: lazy, slow, stupid, different ways of saying, "I don't want her on my team." I kept paging through them in disbelief. Even the positive ones said that I did what I was told, but couldn't work with a team. The more recent the report the worse it was.
I couldn't believe it.
Aaron walked through the door and stopped short as he saw me.
"You shouldn't be in here."
I turned on him, one particularly egregious report clutched in my fist. "What is this?" I had trusted him. Was this what he thought of me? "Is this what they say? This woman wasn't even with me during my shift! She disappeared and left me to make up Emma's room alone, and then she tells you that I'm lazy and can't be trusted? And you're going to sell me? Fine! Thank god! No one wants me here!"
Aaron looked a little stunned by my tirade. "It's just a recommendation. I have to do it every week."
"And they think I'm the traitor," I spat. I wondered who knew that the one we had chosen to govern us saw nothing wrong with informing on us.
He reached out, as if to placate me, but his hand hesitated before it reached me. Even he couldn't bring himself to touch me. "They're not going to sell you. You've been on the list the past six times."
I stared at him blankly. "Every week? Every week since I fucked her?"
His eyes widened. "I didn't-"
"Why was I never asked to do a report?"
"Your English "
"My English is fine! Yeb vas! I can write better than this!" I threw the paper on the floor and ground it under my foot. "I want to work. I need to work, but because I do the job that none of you could stomach, you won't let me?"
Aaron stumbled over his words, something about duty and reliability. I didn't listen to them.
"You don't have to be disgusted by me anymore. She doesn't want me anymore. Maybe this time they will take your recommendation and get rid of me."
"I'm not trying to keep you from working." He had regained his composure. I hadn't. "Is your back all right?"
"Better than yours I'd suppose. You're still working."
His shoulders stiffened, but I couldn't read him. Was he angry? Was he afraid? He glanced toward the list and then at the floor, and I knew.
"I didn't run to her and tell. I didn't complain. I don't understand her, or know what she's planning, but if she were going to sell you, you'd be gone already."
"I see." Aaron looked at me and then picked the list up off the desk, scratching out my name and adding a different one at the bottom. "It's hard to believe you, since there were so many reports that agreed, but they did change drastically after after she called you for the first time. I thought, perhaps, you were suffering from depression. I didn't want to call you on it." He looked away. "If you didn't tell her "
He looked shocked and slightly guilty at that. How could he have any guilt left after he had been punished for it so thoroughly? I could still see the imprint of a lash coming out of the collar of his shirt, marking his chest and curling over his neck.
"If you want to work, take these to the Butler." He handed me a pile of papers, the list on the top. "If I can't trust their evaluations, I will watch you myself."
I let the papers settle into my hands, not quite understanding what this meant. It wasn't what I had wanted. I wanted to be thrown away like trash. I wanted this endless disparagement to end.
But I would take what I could get.
The full-time servants lived on the floor above, but there were no staircases leading directly there. The downstairs was only accessible from the main floors, and those doors could be bolted from the outside at the entrance on our floor, on the first landing, and at the exit. The exit opened into tight corridors that led to the kitchen, the public areas, and the private areas. The public areas were riddled with doorways and hidey-holes to keep the servants available but out of sight. The private area corridor led up a second staircase and let out at the end of the hallway by the least important guest bathroom. Emma's rooms were at the opposite end of the hallway, around a corner and down another set of stairs. Slaves were not allowed on the main staircase that led up from the public rooms.
The stairs down to the servants' quarters were behind the kitchen. Slaves were not allowed on them either without an escort. The cleaning crews that worked there were on a set schedule and had guards at the doorways of whatever room they were working in.
It was easier to get out of the building from the servants quarters than from any other area (save the roof, but one would not survive the escape). It had three direct routes outside. But I didn't believe the extra security was because they were worried about escape.
In a society where there are two lower classes, one slave and one free, the most important thing to the free class is to differentiate themselves from the slaves. Because they know, that if the lines ever blur, their freedom is forfeit. That was why they made sure to guard us while we were in their quarters, and they would never stand a slave in a job that required a uniform. A uniform meant a professional, and that was something a slave could never be.
I had never been in one of the crews that cleaned the servants' quarters, so it took me a few minutes to find the stairs. I couldn't ask directions, because no one in the kitchens would meet my gaze or respond to my query. When I found it, I was surprised that there was no guard. I had expected to pass on my burden, or be escorted to the Butler, but instead I had to make my way down the dim stairwell alone, every step treading into more and more foreign territory.
The hallways were larger and better lit than the downstairs, but I didn't know where to go. The first door that was open I looked into. It was a gymnasium, and inside there was a fight going on.
The blue demon I had run into a week before was wielding a foil with his three deformed digits. He crouched and then extended in an impossibly long, amazingly graceful lunge, his forked tail in a curve behind him matching his back arm.
His opponent was a broad heavily muscled man with thick golden fur sprouting from his chest, breaking out of the collar of his uniform. He skittered backwards, trying to avoid the lunge, and fell, clumsily batting away the blade with his own weapon.
I was distracted by the fight, and only noticed the woman coming up behind me when she grabbed the back of my shirt and threw me into the gym. The papers scattered across the floor.
"Who are you? And what are you doing here?" The woman had her weapon out and it was pointed straight at my throat.
"I- I'm sorry. I'm looking for the Butler."
Her sword slashed the buttons off my shirt and it fell down my shoulders.
She was looking for my brand, but it was shaming, clutching my shirt closed, and crawling on my knees until my back faced the tip of her sword. I felt the cool metal trace over the two burn marks.
"Who sent you?"
"Jessica? What is happening?"
The blue demon had left his opponent on the heavily waxed floor, and bounded over.
"I caught a slave sneaking around."
The demon crouched and looked at my face. "Ja. It is my friend!"
He offered me a hand. I stared at it for a long moment, bewildered by his words. I took it. It felt soft, like the fur of a mouse. He helped me to my feet.
The woman, Jessica, was staring at me with an expression like she had tasted something disgusting. I stared at the floor.
"You had a 'K,'" she said shortly.
"Kremlin," I muttered.
"You're that one." She wrinkled her nose. "A woman's bad enough, but a human too." She sneered. "Deal with her, Kurt. I need to wash my hands."
The blue demon patted me on the back. "These papers are yours, ja?" He crouched and started to gather them. I quickly dropped to the floor and scrambled to collect them as quickly as possible.
He gave me his pile when they had all been picked up. "I'm sorry," I said.
"It is nothing. You helped me much. My comrades were all very disappointed when I avoided " He pursed his lips and thought for a moment, "'being ripped a new one.' Ja?"
I glanced away. He had taken my advice. "I need to give these to the butler," I murmured.
"I will show you the way." He smiled, and offered his arm. I shook my head, glancing toward his former opponent, who was toweling off his fur and watching us suspiciously.
"Thank you," I said.
He seemed to understand what I meant, and led the way out of the gymnasium.
"I do not think I introduced myself. My name is Kurt Wagner, formerly of Berlin."
"Emily Prentiss," I said, my name sounding foreign on my tongue. "Formerly of Stoianka, near Kiev."
Kurt smiled broadly. "I am pleased to meet you."
He led me to an office in the back of the floor. A powerful-looking black man sat at the desk, frowning at a mass of paperwork. He looked up and caught sight of Kurt.
"Wagner!" he yelled. "Where are the weekly slave reports? I want you to go and bash that foreman until they're on my desk!"
"Ja, Mr. Cage. Sir. I believe I have them here." He pushed me forward and I held out the pile of papers.
Mr. Cage took them, hardly looking at me, and started paging through them. He shook his head. "As bad as I thought. Any volunteers to tell our brat of a mistress that torture is demoralizing? Didn't think so."
He was grumbling to himself, but his words were loud enough to echo off the filing cabinet across the room. I stared at him. Finally he looked up from the papers and frowned, eyeing me.
"I haven't seen you before. Your number?"
I gave it to him, and he gave me an even more intrigued look. "Really? Well, tell your foreman that I'll approve his request to rearrange the schedules, but if the mistress' rooms suffer at all from this, he'll be getting in there himself and scrubbing, all right?"
I nodded. He picked up two folders and handed me one. "This goes back to your foreman." Then he gave me the other. "This is for the cook, more blasted dinner parties, so get it to her. Immediately."
And suddenly I had a new job. I was Aaron's adjutant and mutant liaison. When I came back to his office, three stacks of folders in my arms from the butler, the cook and the housekeeper, after having run all over the house, looking for different people and relaying instructions, he stared at me as if I had come back from the dead. I wondered if he had expected me to get caught by the servants in their area and punished for it. Had it been a maneuver to get rid of me?
I didn't care much. I relayed all twelve messages I had been given verbally, and he groaned at the sudden weight of work. He started sorting out the responses and the instructions he needed to relay. The cleaning crews needed to ready the two best guest bedrooms. The cook needed reports from the gardens on what would be ripe by next week. The air conditioning was making strange sounds, and someone needed to go down to check on it before Mr. Cage called a technician.
"I can do it."
He gave me a long look, and then handed me the list he had been making of instructions, who to ask, who to tell.
Interacting with mutants all afternoon had made me forget that I was invisible to the humans. When I approached the head of the gardening crew and he turned away, I remembered. I didn't let him ignore me. I put my hand on his shoulder. He leapt away from me and started cursing, making the sign of the cross over and over again.
"Don't touch me demon!"
I waited for him to finish panicking. "I have a message from Aaron," I said, when he finally shut up. He was obviously surprised, but told me what I needed to know and relay on to the cook. I could feel everyone's eyes on me as I left. But for the first time in a long while they were merely shocked and curious, not baleful.
The dinner party was the first big project I was involved in. No one of great importance was coming, so we didn't have to build a dais. Anyone of the rank of duke or above is due an elevated table. But even with the lower nobility the amount of rules and honors that had to be followed was huge and incredibly complex.
All I was doing was relaying messages, but Kurt made it easy for me to interact with the other mutants. Most of them found him unobjectionable, even if they tended to patronize him. But when he introduced me most of them blinked a few times and then spoke directly with me instead of talking over me, or expecting me to listen when they didn't make eye contact. The only other slave I had ever seen them do that with was Aaron.
With my fellows, new rumors were circulating, some that I had bewitched him, others that I had offered him my services when Emma had thrown me out.
Aaron only rarely brought his work into the refectory; he was more likely to skip meals. But as the party approached and more and more details needed to be sorted, he gave in, and brought his notes to work on while he ate. I was heading towards the corner to eat with JJ when he called me out in the middle of the refectory.
"Moscow! Grab a pen. I need you to take notes."
A ripple of silence spread through the room as I took the seat across from him and started writing the list of instructions he needed relayed on.
Cyrus was the one who looked at us the hardest. His back had taken a long time to heal, and he had been humiliated by being put on a lighter labor crew. He was the one most likely to wonder aloud within my hearing how much Aaron was paying for me. But everyone else saw Aaron's actions as a vote of confidence. With a few well-placed rumors that I was the one who had rejected our mistress for what she did (thanks to Jennifer, although I said nothing to support them, and I considered anyone who believed it and didn't question why I was still alive to be an idiot), it became easier to interact with my fellows. Many still shied away if I got too close, but I was back from Coventry. The silent treatment was finally over.
The only real trouble with my new job was that I was always around and available whenever a task was reported incomplete. The only tasks ever reported such involved Emma's rooms, and a cleaning crew fleeing before she returned.
The first time Aaron looked up at me pathetically, and asked, "do you think you could just have a look around? Make sure it's presentable?"
I assented and did so. A few things needed straightening. The sheets could last another day. The trash by her desk was overflowing. Someone was going to have to see to the grout on the tiles in the bath eventually, but I'd tell Aaron to put it on his list of things to do after the dinner party.
I emptied the trash and realized that it was full of botched letters of invitation to the party. They were all addressed to the same person, a woman's name. I felt the blood drain from my face, but I could not have told you why. Not then. Not yet.
I rarely ran into her, and if I did, I always remembered to drop my eyes. She never looked in my direction.
The day of the party I was bringing up the pile of finely written menus to the cook. She ignored my offering, grabbed my shoulders and shook me.
"There aren't enough servers!" she squeaked. "The footmen have to manage the doors at the beginning, and there's no one to serve drinks. Your foreman needs to send me three people, trustworthy people, who won't make a spectacle of their " she gave me a sharp look and loosed my shoulders, "of their human-ness, and have some idea how to act around their betters."
"But it's a uniform job," I stumbled out, still jolted by the force of the petite woman's shaking.
"I know," she gave me a sharp look. "I want face paint. As mutant as possible. The guests need to feel comfortable."
I ran to give Aaron these impossible directives, and he sank into his seat with a horrified expression. "Three?"
Three humans expected to be on their best behavior in a room full of mutants when we couldn't even get the cleaning crews into Emma's rooms while she was in the building? I didn't even want to consider what would happen if he chose someone who was wrong. Emma could feel their hate. What could these guests do?
"Is there anyone who you think could work with you?"
"With me?" It took a long second before I realized what he meant. "You want me-"
"Of course," he said, as if he were surprised I even asked. "But who else?"
He gave me a cross look. "Why do you think I need you? You don't recoil in fear when I ask you to speak to a mutant. Can you think of anyone who could hold themselves together in that situation?"
Perhaps, "Jennifer?" I offered.
He blinked. "Angel?"
JJ never had any problem with her nickname. Neither did anyone else. I nodded.
He pushed back his papers. "It will make things difficult. But I ought to be nearby if things get out of hand. Go ask the housekeeper for face paints and uniforms, and if you can, inform the heads of the crews where I'll be at the beginning of the party."
After a hastily bolted dinner I took the maquillage, uniforms, and JJ up into the worst guest bedroom's bathroom. It was private and had a mirror, unlike our room, and getting caught making up like mutants in the slave bathroom was a recipe for disaster.
Jennifer found the idea thrilling, terrifying, and was far more hyper than was comforting, so I lectured her about professionalism and the results of unprofessional behavior (i.e. death). It was pointless in the face of maquillage.
At that time, the style of dress was particularly dramatic. Looking human was practically a crime. Lip rouge was never red. Shades of blue and silver were far more popular. Large patches of color, even fake scales and fur were in style.
Before the box was even fully open, JJ was lunging for the case of shimmering gold rouge and started to smear it across her face.
"It's been so long since I've done this! My big sister taught me how."
I had been forced into dresses to go to boring grown-up parties my entire childhood, and I had been repelled by the idea of make up since it just increased the preparation time by at least a half an hour. In fact, as Jennifer skillfully manipulated the instruments, I realized that I had no ability to do this for myself.
Jennifer's mouth was glittering with gold paint, and she slowly brushed white paint across her eyelids and then outlined it with more gold. She pressed tiny stick-on stars in a cloud on one cheek, and then shoved her stool over to me and turned her back.
"Braid my hair," she instructed. The follow-up instructions informed me that she wanted tiny braids scattered throughout her hair, and then she gave me a handful of golden snakes that were meant to be clipped in. When I finished, she twisted her hair up, snakes and all, then turned towards me. She looked shockingly adult like that, and if I had passed her on the street, I would have not doubted that she was a mutant. For a moment I was afraid of her, and it was only when she laughed that I recognized her as the Jennifer I knew.
Then she grinned and said, "Your turn." And I was even more afraid.
I was very attracted to her as well, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. To a certain extent she was my little sister, and she was thirteen. I also didn't want to think about the fact that the more she looked like a mutant, the more attracted I was. I bit down on the feeling because this wasn't the time or place. Instead an inexplicable loneliness rose up in my chest. I had more friends, more people to interact with than I had ever had, but I couldn't help feeling un-centered and alone.
I had no opinion on what she did to me. JJ got very exited over something dark purple and the way it went with the sparkly metallic bronze, and I just hoped it would come off eventually. The third time she started to undo my hair with a new expression of gleeful insanity in her eyes I slapped her hands away and told her that we needed to make sure there wasn't anything else that needed to be done.
Aaron had made himself a pale green with frog-like spots. I was impressed. He set his hand on my arm and gave me that look that clearly said I was not going to like the next words out of his mouth.
"The mistress "
I waved him away and started for the stairs. Sometimes I felt like the only competent person there.
When my hand touched her door, I couldn't push it open. The rough white paint under my fingers was too familiar. The fluttering of fear in my chest, knowing that she was inside. I didn't want to go in. But I breathed deeply and stepped forward. Turning back was certain to have repercussions; moving ahead was only a risk.
The room was dim, the shades pulled, and the only light was coming in through the cracks. The bedside lamp that had always been the only source of illumination when I had met her there before was out. Her bedroom was empty of people, but full of ghosts.
In that room I was always on my knees.
I looked into the study, also empty, and then heard a soft noise coming from the bathroom. The light was off inside, so I hadn't thought to check there, but the door was open.
Emma was inside, staring into the shadowed mirror, touching her face. Her fingers ran down her crooked nose, molding it futilely into a better shape. She sighed, tucking her lower lip between her teeth.
She was dressed only in her underwear, a half-corset bustier, underpants and stockings, all white. Her face was made up with shimmering white paint, eyelids, lips, even the line of her cheekbones outlined. It gave her face a shell of metallic hardness, but with the half-critical half-resigned way she was watching her reflection in the mirror, she looked like a virgin bride on her wedding night.
I was still so afraid of her. I couldn't control it. It was an automatic reaction. And the fear, the physical tension and fluttering panic made it even more inexplicable that I wanted her as much as I did. I wanted to smear the colors on her face, punish her for what she had done. But perhaps all I wanted was to feel the way I had with her beneath me. With her legs wrapped around my shoulders I could destroy her. And if I were the master, I could feel free.
If the power I felt had been real rather than imagined, it would have only been more attractive.
She looked up, catching sight of me in the mirror and turned swiftly, her hands closing into fists. I could not move nor speak although I tried. I thought I was paralyzed with fear until I realized the wall of ice that had clamped down on my mind meant that she was controlling me. The flood of panic that swept through me at that realization was only more impotent than the one before. Her mouth moved as if to start the words "who are you?" and then she stopped. Her eyes flashed with recognition, but did not seem to be focused on me. The cold clench on my thoughts slipped away. And then she looked at me, cocking her head curiously, her mouth drawing into a smirk as she eyed me with an incredulous expression. Apparently whatever JJ had done was enough to make me unrecognizable at first glance and look enough like a mutant to be taken for a trespasser.
She didn't ask me why I was dressed so strangely. She just walked past me, disregarding my presence. Her dress was spread out on her bed, also white and shimmering with glossy threads woven into reflective patterns.
<< Put it on me. >> She spoke straight into my mind, not breaking the silence of the room.
My fingers were clumsy and the fastenings were complicated and difficult to reach. Sometimes I would brush against the bare skin of her back on accident. The shock of it usually made me miss a hook and would confuse me for a few moments until I could breath a few gasps of air that were not imbued with her scent and recalibrate. I expected her to jump into my mind every time, punish me for my incompetence, read the thoughts I couldn't keep from thinking, but she didn't.
I finally finished it. She didn't look at me. << You can go. >> I sidled backwards out of the room, watching her. I couldn't stop myself from wondering if she would need me to help take it off.
I hated myself for wanting it.
Kurt bounced up to me when I came into the kitchen to get my tray.
"Emily! You look beautiful." He bowed sweepingly. "And your friend?" He looked at JJ who caught sight of his eyes and face, shrieked and ducked behind me.
But she wouldn't shake his hand, just shook her head and stared at the ground.
I looked apologetically at Kurt. "I'm sorry."
He gave a half smile. "It's not new."
It was hard to see that look on his face. It was clear he had more right to hate us than anyone else, more experiences of violence and prejudice, but he didn't. I didn't know if I would ever understand him.
"That was rude," I told JJ when he was gone. She looked frightened and hurt by my tone.
"He's my friend." I snapped. "You have no right to judge him. If you treat anyone else here tonight like you did him, I won't be able to protect you. I won't want to protect you."
"I'm sorry. He just looks " She glanced after him, his tail moving like a fifth limb, his hands so inhuman and distorted. I could see the horror in her stance and in her expression. "He looks wrong."
I had never wanted to slap her so much, but I couldn't ruin her make up. I grabbed her shoulders, trying to restrain the force of my grip, but knowing that I was clutching her tightly. I could see the pain in her face. "People think I'm wrong, for what I do. They think you're wrong because you don't have the right genes. That's why we're here. That's why your family is dead. So don't you dare hate him unless you hate me too. Find a better reason than the way he looks."
JJ looked like she was about to cry. I turned away from her, picking up my tray, and headed out to the lounge. "And don't wreck your maquillage."
I was on edge, had been on edge all day. Scolding Jennifer was easier than scolding myself, but I was the one who deserved it. I was out of control. I couldn't bear that. And I had to get over it. If I didn't get over it, I would not survive the night.
Serving at the party as the guests arrived was a little like watching a play. Our black uniforms with high ruffled collars made us easy to pick out as servants, even with the wild face paint that actually didn't look out of place in the company. We were like magpies among peacocks. But like the audience of a revue, we were ignored.
Jennifer stayed away from me at first. I watched her staring up at the strange people in their wild fashions and strange disfigurements with wide eyes. She never looked disgusted, but I knew from the quick fearful glances she would give me that she was working hard at it. When a man with a reptilian face and a prehensile tongue came in, I could see her take control of herself, stand straight, look professional, and walk up to offer him a drink.
He took it with his tongue.
Her jaw clenched tight, and her eyes flickered over to me, but she didn't react. I gave her a slight nod and half the tension slipped away from her.
I had meant to make her fear the guests, fear what they could do to punish her. Instead I had only made her fear me, but it seemed to be effective enough.
"Oh give me a fucking drink!" The first woman to arrive was tall, with wavy red hair and an indecently short skirt. She caught up a drink from Aaron's tray, not even giving him a glance and curled her nose as the footmen wrestled a pile of bags in, through the hall and towards the staircase. "Where's my baby sister? I want to slap her for moving to the ends of the earth and making me suffer the flight from hell."
"Adrienne." I hadn't known Emma had a sister. The woman reminded me of their father in the brutality of her expression. She kissed Emma fakely and looked her over with an appraising glance that was clearly ready to be unimpressed.
Her sullen expression didn't do much for the effect, but I couldn't have found words to criticize my mistress. I couldn't look at her though, not without remembering fastening her dress, and hating her for never looking in my direction, for ripping up a hundred people's minds because they hurt me, and then forgetting about me as if I were a toy she had lost interest in.
Adrienne smirked and put her arm around Emma's shoulders in false fraternity. "You do know plastic surgery is always an option, honey," she whispered, loud enough for me, ten feet away, to hear it.
I saw a man with a black ponytail laugh, and bristled.
I looked over to Kurt who was hoisting an oversized suitcase onto his back. "Why doesn't she do something?" I wanted to ask. He read my face, but just shook his head and started staggering up the stairs.
The crowd was astonishing, and once her sister had wandered off our mistress became someone I didn't recognize. She moved easily through the room, no trace of insecurity, speaking to everyone intimately in low voices or laughing at their attempts to be jovial.
A woman, with an exuberant grin, dressed in hot pink feathers and tartan, took a glass from my tray and leaned toward Emma. "Did I hear something about Elizabeth coming?" she said, laughing.
My mistress stiffened, and although it was probably invisible to everyone, I could see her discomfort. "I don't see why this is a matter of interest."
The woman smiled. "Do you think she might be persuaded?"
"Not the time," Emma cut her off. "Radical politics should wait until everyone is drunk."
The woman raised her glass. "Are you sure you're not asking for trouble?"
"Trouble comes and goes. Legislation lasts."
I hadn't really realized that this was a court party with a political agenda, but of course it was. I knew none of the issues though, and most went over my head. When the man with the black ponytail started talking about bloodlines, and rankings being based on the purity of the genome, a woman, tall and slender, with sharp eyes and a sibilant tongue cut him off and called his ideas of nobility "human," which clearly meant old-fashioned and unenlightened. "Power tells," she said. "Blood is silent."
My mistress looked as if she was about to speak, but she paused and glanced toward the door. The sudden twist on her face, the eagerness and hesitance, cut more than I thought anything could. Her insecurities were supposed to belong to me.
The door opened with a footman on each side, and then the woman came in.
"Marchioness Elizabeth Braddock, Queen of Britain."
I looked away.
"Are you all right?" Kurt, carrying a tray of hors d'oeuvres, hovered at my elbow. I didn't have time for his sensitivity; I didn't have enough emotional control to deal with it.
Emma greeted her too easily, the slight brush of fingers along her wrist, the sly smile, and I needed to throw up.
"When are they calling them in for dinner? God, tell me it's soon."
Kurt smiled awkwardly. Why did everyone look at me like that before they told me something I didn't want to hear?
I stood behind the Marchioness as dinner was served, clenching the pitcher of wine I held, and trying to feel numb. I wanted to hate her. I wanted to give into my fury and jealousy. But if I did I couldn't even guess how many of the guests would be able to tell. Emma would know. I almost wanted her to know, wanted to get her attention so she would stop looking at the purple-haired mutant and look at me. Even if it was just a glance, confusion, or irritation, anything was fine, anything that would prove she was aware of me, that I existed.
But I couldn't even find a reason for why I was so jealous. I wished I could say that it was because I took pride in my work and I didn't like seeing anyone else take my place, even if I had already been fired. But that was clearly absurd. The obvious answer seemed to be that I wanted Emma, that I was jealous of this woman for having her. But it wasn't that simple. I was jealous of her for what she was, not who she had, for being a mutant, for having power and status and being worthy of my mistress' attention.
It hadn't sunk in until that day that my world, the world of this building, of the downstairs, of my mistress' bed was so small and meaningless. I could fuck her until she cried, but the moment she stepped out of the building I was as good as forgotten. My life was meaningless, and I would always be worthless because I was a human. I was furniture.
For the first time I realized that I was the one lying to myself when I said that I wasn't a whore. I was less than a whore. A whore at least was a person. She could choose to sell her services or not. It was a job description, not an identity. I wasn't even a person. If Emma wanted a relationship she would no more consider me than she would a chair.
I felt like I should have known this already. I felt naïve and childish. It took all I had not to let myself cry. I just stared at Elizabeth Braddock and wanted to be her.
I still wonder what my mother would have thought of my discovery. I finally wanted something that was beyond any conceivable realization, I wanted what she had always wanted for me, to be someone who was not forgettable, not worthless, who meant something to the world. But even the attempt to pursue that was completely barred to me.
Why hadn't I been born a mutant? The marchioness was clearly unafraid of my mistress. There was some muttering that suggested she was also a telepath. If I had that sort of strength and power I would never have to bend my head, never be afraid of what they could do to me. Instead I walked this precarious line, with no guarantees, no safety net to catch me if I put one foot wrong. And I would do such a better job at being with Emma. She wasn't even seventeen yet. She needed someone to make it easy for her, someone to hold her back if she were going too far. And it seemed so obvious that this woman didn't give a damn for her. Every move, every smile, every too intimate touch was blatantly manipulative. And Emma was a telepath! How could she not notice?
I could barely remember to keep the glasses full, and didn't pay attention at all to the flow of conversation. Half the table seemed to be telling jokes about their superiors. Dishing dirt on Erik Magnus and the Xavier brothers was entertaining, but it was done with that slightly malicious intensity that said that regardless of making them into a laughingstock, they were the embodiment of the level they desperately wanted to reach.
The other half seemed to be discussing the possibility of sponsoring a piece of legislation about the genetic testing of children. The words made my flesh crawl, and I didn't listen carefully enough to understand what the bill would entail. There was one man there, a pair of red tinted glasses on his nose, who leaned back in his chair, lifting his glass for me to refill it. He seemed against the legislation. "I have all my brats tested," he said with a sneer. "But I've never had a problem. Neither have my brothers. The Summers line breeds true."
The woman of neon pink and tartan grimaced at this comment. "Still, sometimes there are surprises. And what a fate, for a mutant to grow up as a slave."
"I don't like this retroactive citizenship garbage," said the man with the black ponytail. "A mutant with human parents should be adopted out to a real family. Slaves shouldn't be allowed uncontrolled breeding either. I sterilize all my males." He smiled. "My female guests appreciate it."
Everyone seemed drunk and useless when the coffee was finally brought in. It was nearly 2 am. I was about to pass out from exhaustion but I still couldn't help twitching every time the marchioness leaned too close to my mistress or touched her.
"What do you think?" I heard her whisper. "Is this testing thing really what it seems, or is it the human rights trash trying to find an excuse to shut down the black market?"
Emma turned her head to look at her, her eyes glassy with too much alcohol. "Does it really matter?" she murmured, and kissed her.
Kurt had to grab my elbow before I realized I was pouring coffee on my shoes.
"Well, if that's not a cue to leave," said Adrienne, with a sneer.
"To leave? Really?" asked the ponytailed man through his cigar. His eyes ran over Adrienne suggestively.
She leaned over him, her hand disappearing in his lap. "Do you follow the example you set with your slaves?"
He stiffened. "Of course not."
Adrienne sighed. "Then I suppose I'll just have to see what my little sister has to offer."
The man in red glasses laughed at him and then stood, stretching. "Well, thank you Emma. Not bad. Maybe next time you can have a real party for the rest of us, and not just yourself."
People began to trickle out. Adrienne disappeared upstairs. Elizabeth stood next to my mistress in the hallway as the guests thanked her. I couldn't look. Aaron, JJ and I helped the footmen clear the table and pick up the mess that had been left behind. When the last guest had disappeared into the hall, Aaron touched my and JJ's shoulders.
"Thank you for this," he said. "You're done now."
A cleaning crew was coming in to finish up.
I let my head fall into my hands in relief. Jennifer was standing stiffly in front of me when I looked up. "Did I do okay?" she asked me.
I felt so guilty for coming down on her hard before. "You did perfectly."
She gave a weak smile. "I think they're horrible," she said. "But not because of the way they look."
"Because of the way they talk to each other. They never say anything that isn't cruel. I can't believe its possible that they hate us more than they hate each other."
I smiled and put my hand on her drooping hairdo. "That's a good reason." Her eyes slid over me as if she were still unsure of whether I would blow up at her again. "Let's go."
I stepped out in the hall in time to see Elizabeth and my mistress walking toward the stairs. The marchioness had her arm around Emma's waist, and slowly let it slide down to cup her ass. I couldn't help the sharp surge of fury that shot through me. Don't touch her.
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, straight at me, all almond eyes and a wicked smile, and squeezed.
I hurried downstairs and scrubbed my face. The dark purple left odd shadows around my eyes and the sparkly bronze left flecks of glitter behind. I felt marked, and quickly changed out of the uniform, folding it to keep it neat for the laundry (although it stunk of coffee, wine and cigars). Only the cuffs of the pants actually had coffee on them, but still I felt guilty.
Had she been listening to everything I was thinking? Had she been laughing at my impotent malicious fantasies? I didn't understand why I had lost control like this. I used to always be able to feel nothing, always be able to look down and not care. My mother had been murdered in front of me, and I had bent my head and obeyed. Everything felt upside down. Where was my rightful rage when the life I had known was destroyed? And now, here, I was filled with hatred and fury because because of what? Because of nothing? Because I had believed that my mistress' penchant for violence meant something, meant that I was important.
I wasn't important.
JJ hadn't come in yet and I lay flat on my back, wondering where she was. I was exhausted, but still buzzing with thought, most of it spawned from anger and fear.
A knock came at the door, and I knew what it meant. My night was not over yet. All of the nervous energy dissipated at once, and I was exhausted. Opening the door, I was met with Aaron's sad face.
"The mistress' sister rang the kitchens, but "
"No one will go see what she wants?" I pulled on a slightly more presentable shirt than the vest I slept in and started for the stairs. I was beginning to doubt Aaron's post-traumatic coddling. The next slave who refused to serve a mutant deserved to be whipped. This was no way to run a household.
"Finally. I was beginning to think the bell was broken." Adrienne rolled her eyes as she lounged on the bed in a robe. She didn't bother to look at me. "I'm having some trouble sleeping. Get me some warm milk, with oh, shot of rum." I doubted the rum would put her to sleep as she had finished off nearly a whole pitcher of wine on her own at dinner.
She looked over at me sharply. "Don't you have a voice?"
My pause had been longer than I thought. "Yes, my lady. I'll just go-"
"Wait." She frowned at me and looked at my face. "Come here." I moved a few feet closer to the bed. "You were serving at dinner tonight, weren't you?" She laughed. "Only my cheapskate of a sister would dare to pass off slaves as mutants."
She stood and reached toward me. Her fingers brushed against my shirt and something happened. Her eyes widened.
"You're the slut my daddy bought." Adrienne lifted my chin and inspected my face, then sneered and looked away. "Only the best for daddy's favorite." She laughed, mockingly, and I couldn't tell whether she was mocking Emma or me more. "Doesn't really matter what you look like though, as long as you're good at what you do. Tell me," she smiled cruelly, "Are you on reserve, or does she loan you out to the guests?"
I shouldn't have been so surprised by the suggestion. The man with the black ponytail had insinuated enough.
For a moment I thought of the dark refectory, the limp bodies, and I wondered if my mistress would be angry if someone else touched me. But this was her sister. She hadn't even snapped back when she had been personally insulted. She wouldn't do anything. And worse, I doubted she would care. It wasn't as if she were alone tonight.
Adrienne stripped off her robe. In some ways her body was more beautiful than Emma's. She was lush where my mistress was narrow. Her breasts full and heavy, her hips smooth and curved. I couldn't do it. I stared at her crotch, trying to imagine eating her out. The thought made me sick. She was cruel and a bully.
But what right did I have to complain? I was furniture.
I was sick of being furniture.
"Fetch my drink, and then I'll give you a ride. I can't say I care much for women at all. But from what I saw, you're pretty good with your mouth."
I fled the room, desperate for this reprieve. What had she seen? I pulled the shirt out and looked at it. It was just a shirt. It was the one I had taken off and folded before serving Emma the first time. Had she seen that? Was that even possible?
The thought make my stomach twist like a shriveling worm.
I stumbled into the kitchen. "The mistress' sister wants warm milk with rum."
The cook laughed. "I could tell we hadn't served enough hard liquor. Rule of thumb for the Frost family: if it isn't 80 proof, it isn't alcohol."
Kurt saw me as he came in from rearranging the chairs and tables that had been moved for the party. "Ach, Emily, you are still working?"
I stared at the drink in my hand, with its light dusting of cinnamon. "Kurt. Do you know where I could find a sedative? Something that works fast?"
He looked at me, confused, with a slight suspicion in his eyes. I looked away. I wasn't going to be weak in front of him. He slipped away and came back almost immediately with two white capsules. "Versed," he said. "Mr. Cage takes them if he can't get to sleep."
It was a stupid idea. If she could see what had happened around the shirt I was wearing, the moment she touched the mug, she would know. I kept the capsules clenched in my guilty fist. She would rip me apart. She wasn't someone who would wait for justice, not that it would be slow in coming. A slave drugging a mutant was a sign of impending disaster. News of it would give the humans a feeling they could fight back. Any mutant who discovered a slave with even the intent of harming or incapacitating a mutant, was obligated to kill them on site.
I was an idiot. I would fuck her if I had to. Could it really be worse than Emma? It was all the same, if I was used by one person or another. That was what I was there for. That was what her father had bought me for. I cast the pills into a potted plant.
I would never get the dirt off of me, but it was already ground in too deeply to rub away.
Adrienne took the drink and seemed to notice nothing. She gave me a sly look, but drank the milk without hesitation. I winced. I should have done it.
"This party was a riot, wasn't it?" Adrienne laughed. "Little Emma really needs to figure out which team she's playing for, because honestly, Marquis Shaw and Doña Garcia in the same room? It's lucky she made certain everyone was drunk very quickly, or there could have been a fight."
I stared at her blankly. Was she expecting me to comment?
She looked at me, frowning. "What have you been doing in these past ten months? Besides fucking my sister. Don't you remember what my father told you? You're supposed to be finding out what she's doing."
I had forgotten. "I I don't know what I'm supposed to be looking for, my lady."
Adrienne rolled her eyes. "Your lucky my father isn't here. If you're that much of an idiot when he comes for her birthday, he won't be pleased. Look, there's a rumor that a cabal of pro-human rights are getting more powerful in the capitol. If she even goes near them, daddy's bringing her home. That's what you need to watch out for."
I frowned. "I don't think she would be interested in that."
Adrienne snorted. "You don't know what she did to daddy's project. These idiots and their egalitarian society pipe dreams are fucking dangerous."
"It sounds like suicide," I said. My habit of speaking without thinking was really starting to get out of hand.
Adrienne cocked her head and seemed to encourage me to go on.
"If they were successful if they abolished slavery, within this generation, after proving that mutants have the capacity to dominate humans, that they truly are a danger to individuals, nations, laws, how could the humans let them live? It's like saying that we want an egalitarian society with tigers, so we let them out of their pens. And yes, we're smarter and more technologically sophisticated than tigers, but they're hungry and have been held captive for years. Eventually, we'll be walking down a dark alley, and we won't come out the other side."
Adrienne gave an odd half smile. "Perhaps you're not as much of an idiot as I thought you were."
I looked down. I had said too much.
"Daddy would be a fool to trust you." Her grin was like a cat's. "I don't think I'll mention that to him. You have a snake's tongue. I hope baby sis likes the way that feels between her legs, because I wouldn't be surprised if you finished with a knife in her gut."
I was shocked by her words. Did I read like a traitor to both sides? But a family that planted spies to watch each other probably didn't have much practice with believing someone to be loyal. Not that I was loyal.
Somehow I needed to keep that feeling. Perhaps I would lie to Baron Frost, but if I did, it wouldn't be for his daughter's sake. I had done enough for her. I spent my days making sure her house ran smoothly. I had taken a beating because she wanted me to look after her at night as well. I had taken her curses and her slap when she blamed me for feeling the fear that she had caused. I was not about to promise anyone my loyalty if it meant that I was giving up my one chance at autonomous action.
As a slave, my very words were prescribed, but as a spy I could say what I pleased. I let that thought buoy me, and the relief when Adrienne sent me away unused only increased my self-importance. (She didn't want my teeth near anything vulnerable, she said with a laugh. And either way, it was late, and her husband would be waiting for her when she went home.)
The feeling lasted for exactly two steps out the door.
"Oi, you. Show me to my room."
I turned. The marchioness was there, half wrapped in an open shirt. I could scent sex on the air. I flashed through about half a dozen emotions before I remembered that I didn't care. But my mouth moved faster than my brain.
"You're not staying with "
I cursed myself. Would I ever remember how to hold my tongue?
Elizabeth gave me a sharp look. "I don't sleep with people," she said disgustedly. "Why would you " Then she tipped her head and looked at me. Her eyes seemed to glow.
And suddenly there were rough straps restraining my mind. The marchioness appeared in the midst of my thoughts in purple leather armor, her gaze cruel. I couldn't think as she summoned images from my memories.
When she found one and brought it out, I would live it all over again. When people say it was like a dream, they mean it was foggy and muddled and confusing, but that's only the memory of a dream. While you're dreaming, you can't tell the difference between it and reality. That was what this was like. I couldn't tell myself it wasn't true, because it was happening, just like the first time.
She seemed to have an unerring instinct for every miserable memory I had, every moment of loss or loneliness. She started when I was a child, bringing back that sharp, vicious humiliation that I had lived with nearly every day, because I was always doing something wrong. She reminded me of the loss of my best friend, her death, when I was seven, my father leaving the next year, the fights and painful dinners, his funeral, the move to Kiev, ostracization by my peers, that sickening feeling of being wrong, being afraid, when I realized what I wanted who I wanted.
I could feel the marchioness' glee as she encountered the next parts, all the things I have already told, the sudden change, the fall from status as my mother lost her job when her government fell, sitting in city hall, begging for asylum, "asylum from the Russians," my mother cursed with incredulity, her madness, my feelings of complete and utter disorientation, and then her death. I had tried so hard to lock away the feelings I had had on the train and in the prison camps, and none of them stood out in my memories, but with Elizabeth's interference I was lost again in the unrelenting fear, horror, pain, and hunger. If there had been some moment of kindness, some moment of sacrifice that I could recall, I might, perhaps, have been able to believe in the nobility of the human spirit. But all that I could see was futile shows of resistance, ending in suicide by mutant, and forcing us to ride with the vile humors exuding from the rotting corpses piled up against the wall, selfishness, and violence as the strong took what little food there was to be had from the weak.
The marchioness sped through most of what came after. She couldn't find any sites of hot burning emotion. Had I truly been that numb? But of course I had. Horrors surrounded me on every side, moving corpses, mopping blood, but the worst I had felt was irritation at someone knocking my bucket over.
I had been dead inside, until now, until I woke up in my mistress' bed and for a moment was able to forget everything that had happened.
<< Oh, you are a piece of work. >> She laughed as she bathed in the nets of my tangled feelings. She relished my pain as I was beaten. She stroked my rage and teased my desire until I was a wreck, miserable and emotionally exhausted.
<< You really want to be me? How sweet. >> She batted her eyelashes at my restrained avatar.
<< I never want to be you. Get out. Get out of my head. >> I fought against the bonds, futilely, weakly. I didn't know how. I couldn't even find a way to make them tense. I was utterly at her mercy, and it was clear that was something she lacked.
I cried. Some little connection to my physical body told me that tears were running out of my eyes, but inside my mind, my avatar cracked from the inside like ice. I was broken.
<< How how can you do this to me? Emma said I have good shields. >>
Elizabeth laughed in my avatar's face. << That's bullshit. You don't even have real shields. You just don't broadcast all your thoughts around all the time. You don't control them. Anyone with a week of training and any aptitude for mental control could do the same. >>
<< But she said >>
She traced her finger down my nose and I felt it, but in a different way than I expected. I flinched, and my mental body responded, pulling at the bonds. << Emma's a crap telepath. She's got the raw power but she hasn't trained it. Compared to someone who knows what they're doing, she's weak. >>
<< Don't say- >>
<< God, you are pathetic. You and your little case of Stockholm Syndrome. Siding with her won't protect you, love, not when she's making so many mistakes. Let her know, someone who backs both horses loses at least once every race. >>
I didn't believe it, but both the marchioness and Adrienne seemed to believe that Emma had a tendency to turn dangerously left. But how on earth could someone who murdered a man negligently, simply because she did not care, ever consider humans important enough to take a political stand for?
She stole that thought as I had it, and laughed at me again. << She doesn't, I checked. She thinks nothing of humans, feels nothing but disdain for their weakness, and anger for what she suffered at their hands. She thinks nothing of you. You do not even exist in her head. >>
I couldn't help the flare of anger. I didn't believe her. I so blatantly could not believe her, although I had been telling myself the same thing. There was no way to hide it, no need to. I blasted it at her. << How dare you- >>
She smirked as the wave crested. << You're so desperate to mean something to her, aren't you? Can't you just deal with the fact that you are an object used for sex? >> She showed me my memory of the first time, let me hear the lies I told myself. << Yes, she was nervous. It was her first time. You wanted to take responsibility for that, teach her. But you failed at training her properly. She never touched you. She never even considered it. Emma got angry because her servants scratched her toy, not because it was you. There is no you to her, do you understand that yet? >>
I couldn't look at her. I didn't want to face that. I wanted to believe it wasn't true. Elizabeth caressed my avatar's face and made me look at her. << You are such a fool to want her. She has no idea of what to do with a woman. I'll blame you for it. You're the one who taught her to be selfish in bed. >>
<< What? >>
I could see it. I could see Emma wanting her, kissing her, like she would never ever kiss me, pulling her down onto the bed, wanting to touch, wanting to be touched.
<< Oh, she gave it her best shot. But the girl had no idea what she was doing. Not like you. >> She played with one of my memories, one of my favorites, of Emma breaking, giving her body, her response, her pleasure up to me. << But you were trained. >>
Trained? Had Irina prepared me for that as well? I recalled her pressing down on my head, hissing instructions. My mouth and fingers slick with her come, she sometimes petted my hair. But it was Elizabeth petting my hair. << Don't worry. I'm sure you were satisfactory. It's hard to make an ex-KGB scream. >>
And then suddenly I was in Elizabeth's memories, Emma's bedroom, my mistress sitting up, naked, in her bed and looking at us.
"I'm done." It was Elizabeth's voice, as we pulled on the shirt.
"Take my advice and get some practice. Girls as bad as you don't get to come."
The look on her face I was grateful that Elizabeth walked out without looking back.
The marchioness laughed at me. << It would only take a little to finish her off. I bet she'd spread her legs for you this time, even if you wanted to kill her as much as you do me right now. >> She petted my face. << I'd let you. In fact, I could make you do it. Would you like that? Would you like me to put a compulsion in your head to make you lick me until I came? I could make you need to service everyone in this building. You'd wake her sister up with your tongue in her pussy, then you'd go and suck off your boss until he came on your face, and then that blue boy. I wonder if is cock is as pointy as his tail. And then you'd go down on that little roommate of yours, and she'd whimper and flail and ask you what you were doing- >>
<< Get out! Get out! >> I threw myself against the bonds and they bent, and I strained against them. I jerked my shoulder and my hand was free. I slapped her. It wasn't a physical slap, and yet it hurt my hand as if it were. It must have hurt her too, for she looked at me, with fire in her eyes.
The straps tightened around my shoulders. One wrapped around my neck like a snake and choked me. "Learn your place, human. If you want to betray your race for cuddles, go ahead, but don't think that you're one of us. Don't ever, ever, make that mistake. >>
The screaming pain in my head was too much to bear. I could see flashes of the hallway, flashes of inside my mind, starbursts and pulsing veins, and then there was only darkness.
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