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
"God, please don't talk." I buried my head underneath the pillow, my splitting headache pounding in my ears. The pillow smelled wrong.
The voice had been Aaron's, I was in his bed.
I sat up, flinching at the light that sent electrical spider webs across my field of vision. "What am I doing here?"
He wouldn't look at me. His back was stiff and I could see the slight downward curve of his mouth, already wearing lines into his face. He would look old before his time with the strain of his position. "Angel was worried when you didn't return. I found you in the hallway."
I shuddered. The pain of trying to think was almost overwhelming, but I knew at least that what the marchioness had done to me was less than she had threatened. I couldn't look at Aaron after what she had said. A trickle of wrongness ran down my spine.
"Why did you put me here?" I asked. I couldn't trust my mind or my memories. Had I done something that I couldn't remember? "Why didn't you take me back to my room?" I stared at him through my splayed fingers that tried to guard my eyes from the light.
"I just thought I didn't want to disturb "
His awkward inability to explain himself terrified me, and I hated what was written on his face.
"What did I do?"
"You were unconscious." He seemed bewildered by my question, and I knew it was worse than I had thought.
I hadn't done anything. Elizabeth hadn't made me do anything. My reputation hung by a thread as it was. How dare he do this to me? I stiffened in his bed, my hands clenching tightly around crumpled sheets.
"You're my boss and that is all! I don't like you." I pulled in air through my nose. And slipped out, my bare feet chilled on the cool floor. "How could I, after what you did to me, after what you believed of me? Don't you dare make me a whore."
I fled his room, not looking at his face. I knew he would be desperate and apologetic, but I had no way of knowing who saw him carrying me into his room. I had no idea what effect this would have. When you had something to lose there was so much more to fear. I couldn't forgive him for not realizing what the consequences of his actions could be.
Later I would realize that none of it was his fault. It was my own action, my own mistakes that led me down that path. And it was my own desires, or lack of desire, that betrayed me.
I tried to be sure no one saw me leaving Aaron's room, but Cyrus was coming around the corner as I ran out. He stepped aside, watching me, and stroking his russet mustachio. I never liked the look in his eyes.
The migraine stayed with me for three days.
I was angry and irritable, light and sound sensitive, and I just wanted to lie in my room and die.
The only person I could stand to be around was Kurt, because he spoke softly and didn't bump into everything. I heard second-hand about the marchioness' departure and Emma's subsequent blow out with her sister who left in a huff to no one's displeasure.
Apparently someone had seen Aaron carrying me down the stairs at least, because there was now a rumor going around that Adrienne had attacked me, and the slaves were more frightened of coming in contact with mutants than ever. Even the kitchen slaves cowered from the cook, whose mutant ability had more to do with never ever mistaking the amount of salt a recipe needed than anything offensive.
But for the first time they weren't completely off base. I was just glad Elizabeth was gone. I truly knew what to fear, and I would be more skittish around her than the cleaning crews were around Emma.
After having been attacked by a telepath, after knowing what it could be like, discovering what they had the ability to do, I still did not know how I would react around Emma. Would I fear her for what she could do? Or would I trust her because she hadn't done it, not to me at least?
She hadn't been home much, at the court at all hours, coming back late and then staying in her office on the phone. I didn't know what it was about. I didn't really want to know. With the threat of Baron Frost's visit hanging over me, I felt that the more I knew, the more risk I was taking.
Kurt was the one who told me that the marchioness had left, and my relief was visible even though my headache was still clinging. It had been fading in intensity a bit every day, so I hoped that either it would go away, or I would get used to it.
I told him what had happened, and how it hurt me physically, but he was too sensitive to my moods to be passed off by that. He touched my arm and looked at me, worry vivid on his face. I couldn't help but admit what else the marchioness' attack had done to me.
"I just felt so helpless. I didn't know how to fight " I looked down at the floor. "I don't know how to deflect. I can school my face and my body language. I can make myself as good as invisible to someone who is only looking with his eyes. But I don't know how to school my mind. Not when I really do hate someone."
Kurt frowned and considered this pensively as he patted my shoulder in some semblance of comfort. "I am sure there is a law against it, but I could teach you some techniques to strengthen your shields. Among mutants it is considered polite to have a little restraint on your thoughts. I do not see why humans should be forced to be impolite, ja?"
That was when the lessons started. We called them meditation lessons so that no one would suspect, and oddly enough, many of the techniques were based on meditative practices. And the skills are all based on abilities gained through meditation. Even breathing practice, trying to stay focused on just one moment of your breath, say, when it passes through your nostrils, for ten breaths without thinking of anything else, is a difficult skill to master. But that was only the beginning. Going about my everyday tasks, I practiced being aware of my breath, of how I walked, how I placed my feet. But the ultimate goal is being aware of your own mind. You never just exist; you are always aware of your own thoughts, aware of your emotions, but not overwhelmed by them. Once you have built that second level of rational thought, and cemented it in place, you work on hardening it. It isn't like building a wall. It's more like weaving a basket, weaving yourself inside a basket. First you must contain yourself, and then you can work on shutting others out.
Kurt said that most people never got beyond the self-containment. I thought I had once been good at that, but recently I had lost control. He said numbness was different than self-awareness.
The one thing that made this particularly challenging was that he was not a telepath, so I had no way of knowing whether or not it was working. But I remembered how it had felt when I had gained enough strength to pull against the bonds, to strike her. I weaved for hours in my imagination, and knew it would not be effective. But finally I found that feeling again and when I pulled my weave tight it felt solid. It existed, not in my memory or my imagination, but in my consciousness.
I had only finished my second lesson, and was attempting to concentrate on breathing as I walked, when Aaron called to me in the middle of the refectory. I was still offended that he had brought me to his room (put me in his bed), and I hesitated. He should not have approached me there. He should have found somewhere private to have such a conversation, but he didn't. He pulled me to the side and spoke quietly, but everyone was watching.
I cringed to hear my name out of his mouth. It sounded wrong and foreign, and it said everything I did not want to hear.
"You need to listen to me!" he hissed sharply at me. "You're right. No one trusts you because you you served her willingly. But if it was seen that-"
"You disgust me." I hissed. I knew better than to shout it, but I shouldn't have said it at all.
I had a hundred reasons for feeling that way. Some would say he was pretty enough. I would say he looked like me. Some would say he was a trustworthy and fair man. I saw someone who whipped a woman and then cried his apologies to be little more than a hypocrite.
I knew him well by now. I knew he tried to be fair. He tried to be kind. In his position it would never be easy, and that was admirable as well, but trying to manipulate me this way was low.
"If you want me, if you care for me, just say it, and let me accept and reject you by my own will. You do not have the right to force me."
"It's for your sake-"
"Don't do me favors!"
"I do think it would be good, not just look good," he said awkwardly. "I respect your competence, and I rely on your fearlessness, and I would be happy to "
It wasn't as if I even knew how a declaration of affection was supposed to go, but I was disappointed with his.
"I already said I don't want you." That was too sharp and too loud, and he stepped up to me and grabbed my arm.
"Don't do this. They're all watching you. What will they think?"
I jerked my arm from his grip. "You may be my boss, but you cannot make me do this."
Emma could make me do this, had made me. Her sister could have. The marchioness could have. But Aaron had no power over me anymore. "If you try to force me, I can speak with Mr. Cage. I can go over your head."
Mr. Cage knew my number off by heart. The cook and the housekeeper both called for me specifically (and by name, thanks to Kurt's introductions). I had power.
It was only later that I would realize that this was the most inappropriate thing I could ever have said in the refectory. It was foolish, and it nearly killed me.
I wasn't speaking to Aaron except for terse exchanges of instructions, and he hadn't asked me to fill in the menial chores that the slaves were too afraid to do for a few days, so I was surprised when he knocked on my door, one night, late, past curfew.
His eyes were always cold when he looked at me now. "Your mistress needs assistance. Bring a mop and a bucket."
The 'your mistress' was new, and bit into me like the lash. It wasn't as if she had called for me. It wasn't as if I had even seen her in the past week. She was busy, and I was kept running errands in the working part of the house.
I had no idea what had happened.
It was the footman Jessica who told me. She stopped me in the hall on the way to my mistress' room. Her leather gloves and the sweat on her face suggested that she had been the one to drive her home. She put her hand on my shoulder, which was a surprise, because she had always been disgusted by me, for multiple reasons.
"Don't bother her," she said harshly, looking me in the eyes. "You go in there, clean, and get out. Don't even look at her. She's been shamed enough today."
My eyes widened. "What happened?"
Jessica wrinkled her nose, and pulled her hand from me as if I burnt. "It's none of your business."
That was true enough. I looked away and made to start down the hall again. But her voice made me pause.
"You know she's been working nonstop. She was putting together a bill, trying to get support for it." Jessica shook her head. "That bitch got up today, rescinded her support, and drove it into the ground."
I closed my eyes. It wasn't difficult to guess who she meant by 'that bitch.' If I had to choose an epithet for the marchioness, I would have selected the same one.
It was the scent that tipped me off when I stepped into the dim room, of what my task was going to be. Liquor and vomit had never seemed that distinct from each other, but the blend was still better than vomit and blood.
Emma was sprawled across her bed, still dressed, making little moaning noises of discomfort.
I tackled the bathroom first, as that was the worst of it. Her office was a disaster as well though. It looked like she had raged through it and ripped up her files. I just put most of it in a pile. It wasn't my job to decide what she should keep and what she should discard.
The trouble was, Emma herself smelled like a bar. Jessica might want to protect her, but I was not impressed by this method of dealing with her problems. From the cook's previous comment about her sister's drinking habits, I assumed it was a familial issue, but if so, it was even less excusable. One should attempt to overcome one's family's failings, not imitate them.
I finished tidying up her room, but I didn't feel comfortable leaving her like that. She didn't have any signs of alcohol poisoning, but she was coughing every once in a while, and would grimace afterwards, like there was a bad taste in her throat. She mumbled for water, and I brought her some. She didn't look at me or seem to wonder where the water came from, but she hardly opened her eyes, just enough to make a weak flail for the glass and spill on herself.
I sat on the edge of the bed as she drank and then tried to find the side table with the glass without opening her eyes.
"I could have told you she was only trying to manipulate you," I said, as I guided her hand towards the table. Emma put the pillow over her head and turned away from me. "You didn't ask me." I shook my head. "No reason to ask me."
I wrinkled my nose when she turned, because it was clear the sheets hadn't been changed in a while, and she had been sick enough that her clothes stunk.
"You can't sleep like this."
She curled into herself, turning away from me, and muttered something like, "go away."
I muscled her out of the bed and into the bathroom. She complained like a sleepy child, but didn't resist.
"I don't know what your legislation was about, but it wasn't worth this. She wasn't worth this."
I stripped her. She was more pliant than when I was offering her sex, and I shoved her into the shower without resistance. She shrieked when the water hit her, but it warmed up quickly, and she stood there, swaying slightly on her feet. I wasn't entirely certain if she was awake, but I left her there and went to change the sheets on her bed and find something clean for her to wear.
She hadn't washed at all when I got back, so I made sure her hair was clean. This required me getting half into the shower with her, so I was mostly drenched by the time she was suitably hygienic.
"You need to pay attention to the effects your actions have on other people. For a telepath you aren't very sensitive."
I dried her off and dressed her. "Wallowing is not an effective way of dealing with your problems," I scolded her. "And what idiot took you drinking?"
She leaned weakly into my shoulder, mumbling incomprehensible half responses to my criticisms, until I put her into her clean bed. She wasn't coughing anymore and looked much more comfortable. I, on the other hand, was damp and sweaty.
I was about to leave and glanced back, standing at the door. Her wet hair was sticking to her face and the pillow and she seemed to have already fallen asleep.
I hadn't been afraid of her for a moment. I hadn't even thought of it. How could you be afraid of someone so undeniably human, mutant powers or not?
"You deserve better than her," I said quietly. "I can't say I'm a better option, because honestly, I'm not. But you deserve better because you are better." I shook my head. What evidence did I have for that? The whole downstairs would disagree with me. "Maybe not are, but can be. I believe that," I frowned. "For no good reason. But I believe it."
"Fuck off," Emma mumbled and pulled the pillow over her head."
She didn't remember it, I think. She didn't seem to notice me. In fact she looked in my direction less than she had before. I thought for a moment that she might be trying to avoid my gaze, but I never caught her turning away.
I don't know whether Jessica said something, or my meditation lessons with Kurt had become an issue, but I felt that the mutants were treating me with more reserve than they used to. The humans weren't shunning me like they had, but there was an uneasy feeling in the downstairs. Even my relationship with Jennifer was becoming strained. She wouldn't come with me if I mentioned I was going to spend time with Kurt. She was still afraid of him, and beginning to resent me for my disappointment. She had other friends whom she was spending more time with, and although they didn't reject me, there was a slight hesitance in the way they treated me, as if they were unsure of what my reactions would be to certain things they said.
Aaron sometimes sent his orders to me through an intermediary, but he was professional, and didn't hold my ill-considered outburst against me in our working relationship. But I no longer felt that I had to fend off his attempts at friendship. I did not expect to be as unhappy about that as I was. But it was always difficult when a little bit of what you were comfortable with was taken away. Even if he had continued trying, it wouldn't have been the same, now that I knew he was not merely interested in a friendly interaction.
The alienation was not as bad as it had been, but I was still so used to being ignored, that when I was tidying the parlor, and someone spoke, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the comment was about me. The content also did not assist me.
"She's pretty," said the woman, round and blonde. I remembered her from the party, tartan and electric pink feathers. Today she was more conservatively attired in florals, drinking tea with my mistress. The words registered with me, but it took a long moment before I realized that there was no one she could be speaking about aside from me. I looked up, and saw Emma's eyes flinch away from me. The woman was also peering at me through her glasses, over her cup of tea, but she was just examining my body, not interested in meeting my eyes.
"You think so?" asked Emma boredly. "Do you want her?"
I flinched. The woman noticed. Her expression turned curious and considering. She looked over to my mistress.
"I'm not the one who's always complaining about my inability to get laid."
Emma glanced over at me again, but her eyes were hard. They seemed to shove me towards the door. "I had her a few times," my mistress said flatly. "It got boring. I wanted to be with a real person."
I walked out and shut the door a little too forcefully. I couldn't listen to that. I couldn't hear her lie about me, if it had been a lie. I slumped back against the door.
"A real person? Did you seriously-"
"Shut up, Garcia." Emma snapped at her. "I'm listening to your shit but that doesn't mean I'm going to drink the fucking kool-aid."
"Just tell me. When you say boring, did you mean you felt guilty? Did you hate yourself for taking something from someone who couldn't tell you no?"
"No. I'm not Scott. I didn't force her to do anything." There was a short pause. "Maybe it's boring not because slaves can't tell you no, but because they can't tell you yes. They can't give you anything, because you already own everything worth having. And they don't have the strength to take anything away."
"They need protection."
My mistress's response was derisive. "You can't protect a piece of property from its owner. You get annoyed with me for saying that they aren't real people, but anyone you have to protect isn't a real person. When you make choices for someone else, they can never be real."
"That's why the children are different?"
"No one's saying idiotic things about them not needing protection."
"They just vote that way." I flinched at that remark, how would Emma respond to a reminder of that indignity.
Emma sounded tired. "Our best argument is still that some of them could be mutants. If we can find just one that tests positive, it's rape, kidnapping, and procurement. We can use that to start shutting the rings down, while they're still arguing about legislation."
"I'm glad you're on our side."
"I'm not. I told you. Children are different."
"Children grow up to become adults."
"Human children grow up to be human adults. The purges are over. They get to live. What more should they want out of life? Freedom? It means nothing. None of us are free."
It was a lot of information to absorb at once. But it matched with what JJ had told me. How long had she been fighting for this? Since she was thirteen, fourteen? It was uncharitable, but I wondered what must have happened for her to be drawn out of her natural tendency towards selfishness.
But what would happen to a telepath during a massacre?
It was inadvertent, but I ended up alone with her for a moment. She was reading in the library, draped over the couch, the book shading her eyes, and I was taking out the trash. She heard me come in, and lifted the book, shooting me a tense glare. I ignored her and went about my business. She dropped the book back over her eyes and ignored me in turn.
I was about to step out the door, when I thought of something, and stopped.
"I'm not afraid of you anymore," I said.
The book thumped on the floor. I dared a glance and met an ugly snarl. "Who the fuck are you?" she spat.
I didn't react, just shouldered my burden and walked away.
Three days later she called for me again.
It was different this time, knowing she had been with someone else, knowing that I had basically asked for this. We were both more stiff and awkward than the first time.
"I'm willing to give you another chance," she said, blandly, like I had somehow failed a trial period for my employment. I supposed I must have, at least according to the marchioness. But it made me want to laugh, and it took all I had to keep it down.
I stopped wanting to laugh when she flinched away from my touch.
She had been hesitant before, embarrassed, but she had never been afraid. Was this what Elizabeth had done to her? I bent my head.
"I'm not going to hurt you," I murmured into her chest, meaning more than physically. Her eyes slid over me. I had settled on my knees, straddling her lap, and she seemed to be inching away. She closed her eyes, biting her lower lip. "You promise?" she whispered, nearly inaudibly.
I gently kissed the line of her collarbone. "I promise."
Afterwards she didn't seem to want me to stay, but I made no motions towards leaving. I was waiting for her to send me away, but she didn't seem to want to do that either. She lay still and tense on the other side of the bed, and then she spoke.
"You heard us, didn't you? About the children. You listened."
"I already knew," I told her.
She looked at me, confusion written on her face.
"Jennifer told me. About how you knocked the guards unconscious and took them away from there."
Emma's body was stiff and unyielding. She lay silently. I worried I had said too much and was about to be thrown out again. But then she spoke to the ceiling.
"My father was the one who had set it up. I found his files. I had to pretend I had just stumbled upon it. That was the only house I could get to. They were the only ones It didn't matter what I did. They just ended up working for one person, rather than anyone who came through the door."
"It's better. At least for her, it's better."
Emma rolled on her side and looked at me, frowning slightly. "Tell me your name again. I've forgotten."
I couldn't do anything but laugh.
The downstairs seemed to intuit the change before I even made it back the next morning. No one questioned me when I wasn't around for the earliest shifts. I didn't miss them often though. Even when I stayed, I would wake up at my usual time and slip out unnoticed. I preferred that to having my mistress awake to find me still there.
The news seemed to spread among the mutants just as quickly. A few would give me tips, if she was in a certain mood they knew she would call for me, and the footmen would give me a heads up so I could prepare. Some did it with a laugh. Jessica derisively, Kurt earnestly.
Sometimes I wore the dress her father had brought me in when I went to her room at night. No one ever stopped me then, it being patently obvious what my purpose and destination were. I wore nothing underneath it. As Emma grew more comfortable with what we were doing, she would let herself touch me, her hands sliding up the backs of my thighs, grasping for purchase, fingers digging into my shoulders or back. When we lay together afterwards her arms would brush against my breasts, making it even harder to stay still.
Often it was torture to be kept there, pressed against her sweaty sated body, and keep my hand from sliding down between my legs and providing some relief. If she fell asleep on top of me, sometimes I would, moving slowly and staying quiet so as not to wake her. It was almost easier to finish trapped there, encased in her warmth and her scent, than it was to bring myself off alone in my own narrow bed. I had to be just as quiet there, because I shared my room with JJ, and was not interested in explaining what I was doing if she woke up and noticed.
One night when I wore that dress she managed to tangle our legs together so her knee was between mine. She was speaking, complaining about court or something, but I could not focus on what she was saying because her hand was stroking down my stomach, trying to smooth out the wrinkles in my dress, which had ridden up over my hips. Then, unexpectedly, her hand slipped between my legs. We both stiffened at the touch, but she did not remove her hand.
"Is this " she asked, her fingers brushing against me again. I closed my eyes.
Her fingers touched me with a gentle curiosity, stroking over hot, swollen flesh, slipping inside, thick wetness clinging to them. Sliding back and forth, they found my clit and rubbed circles around it. I buried my face into the pillow, trying not to cry out. But her touch grew more insistent and I panted, rocking my hips against her hand until I came.
She settled into a self-satisfied quiet after that, and I lay still and wide-awake. I was unbelievably ashamed of myself. When I was certain she was asleep, I left. I went up onto the roof and sat by the edge, next to the cabbages, and wallowed in it.
I wanted to tell myself that it was all right. The marchioness had said as much, it was part of my job to teach her how to do what I did for her. But that sounded more and more hollow as I repeated it. I wasn't working. I was taking advantage. Sleeping in her bed, encouraging her to touch me, it was taking advantage of my position and it felt wrong.
It would have been difficult to explain to Jennifer, trying to state the difference between the gardeners swiping a few choice vegetables and myself begging my mistress to fuck me. But that was the difference right there. I wasn't taking anything from her, I was giving her power over one of the few things I had left, my pleasure, and she knew it. That was the worst part. I had begged for it. I had given up whatever last remnant of self-respect I had, for sex.
Now that I had I given her that as well, what did I have left?
The next time she called for me, I didn't want her to touch me. I pushed down on her wrists, pinning them to the bed, and kept on pushing them away if she tried to hold on to my shoulder, or slip her hand into my hair. I was doing my job and didn't need the distraction.
It was harder.
I suppose I just hadn't noticed how much I already had to give to her to do this job. Not hating her wasn't quite enough. I had to want her, at least a little bit.
I felt her get frustrated with my not allowing her to touch me. Finally she had had enough, pulled me up, and pushed me back onto the bed. I didn't resist, just went limp. And she left me alone.
I wasn't sure what she wanted from me. She stopped me when I tried to leave, and curled absently into my back. I was tense, almost terrified, that she was going to try to touch me. I had decided not to react. If she wanted it, I would let her, but I wouldn't beg, I wouldn't even give her permission. If she wanted this, she would have to take it.
One of her arms pressed against my breasts and I could feel her even breathing against my neck. It was calm and regular and finally I was sure she was asleep. I started to move my hand, but her fingers slid around my wrist and held me still. They drifted teasingly over my palm and tangled with mine.
She knew exactly what she was doing. She wanted me to beg. I wasn't going to.
The stalemate lasted until we both fell asleep.
No one had cleaned the grout in Emma's bathroom for months. I had specifically put in on Aaron's list to be done immediately after the party. Had it been done? No. When I complained to Aaron he just looked at me coldly.
"You do it then. You spend enough time there as it is."
I glared. "This is no way to run the downstairs. You need to whip the next person who refuses work."
"If I told them you said that, you'd be dead." He snapped at me. "Just because you're her personal slave doesn't mean you have power over the rest of us. You don't even remember what it's like to be one of us."
I did not understand him. I was nothing but one of them, subject to the same demands, to even more irrational whims. Just because I wasn't subservient to him, he thought I was an other. But I had always been an other there. They had always rejected me in one way or another, for a stupid inconsequential reason, like my language, when they had no other, (not that who I let use my body was of any more importance).
"I was never one of you. You never let me be one of you. And I remember what it was like in Moscow. It's better here. It's better for all of us." I shook my head and walked towards the cleaning cupboards to get supplies. "Why do you struggle after freedom?" I muttered to myself. "None of us are free."
I didn't want to believe what she had said. I didn't want to use her words, to include both mutants and humans in the "us," but I couldn't help but feel that she was right. We were all in chains forged by societal expectations. And there was no way out save death.
There had been such a backlash regarding the word slavery prior to the mutant revolution, and it had made people think of it as an enormity, when all it was was an institution formed by society, like banks. The mutants were thrilled by the taboo of it, but when it came down to the function, it was just another economic transaction.
It seemed to me that the more importance we bestow upon something the more we tend to disbelieve its contemporaneous existence. We aren't able to believe that other people think differently than us, even when it's so obvious that they do, even when we used to think that way ourselves.
For me, I could not let myself believe that I thought the same way as my mistress did. That was the enormity, the impossibility. And that was what made us unable to attempt communication. We both knew that there really was no way for us to understand each other, if there even was something there to understand, so we didn't try. I didn't try.
The mold that clung to the grout was stubborn and frustrating. I scrubbed for hours, hot water, rough cloth, bleach stinging my fingers. I just wanted to get it done, but I was angry, at Aaron for not doing his job, at JJ for cringing away from Kurt. She had been blatantly rude to him the last time they met, and he had taken it unquestioningly. I was almost angry at Erik Magnus at that moment. What use is your mutant utopia if your citizens still expect to be ridiculed and insulted? Could his empire truly be called a paradise for mutants, or merely an oligarchy of the strong?
I was angry at myself, for a hundred things, for wanting Emma, for challenging her, for stupidly trying to force people to understand that a wrong committed by a society as a whole is not changed by a single instance of violence, for being afraid of what would have to happen to truly alter a society through violence, for knowing, through Kurt, that it would never truly change for the better.
I was angry at Emma for never doing anything for herself, and I was fighting with that wall until it glistened, and it still wasn't good enough.
Sweat dripped off my forehead, and I was almost finished, when I heard an odd hiss, and then suddenly I was drenched by the twin showerheads (one on each side). The water was icy cold and my clothes were soaked. I dropped the cloth into the tub and turned slowly around.
My mistress was standing in the doorway, laughing at me. All the anger I had been directing at the mold on the grout suddenly had a new target. I was suffused with fury, and I leapt out of the bathtub and charged her. (God knows what I would have done had I met her there.) She turned and fled.
I ran after her, dodging fleetly around the obstacles she put in my path. She ducked into her office and tried to shut the door but I slammed into it, forcing it open, and knocked her over with it. I tripped over her feet and fell on top of her.
I froze there for a moment. My soaking clothes were dampening hers, and she was breathing hard under me, still grinning like a hyena. It was nothing like the nights I came to her, full light, no script, no power, and I wanted her so much more than I ever had. I was pinning her arms to the floor, and I leaned in, ready to kiss her (roughly, because that was what I wanted, to punish her for this), and a bare hairsbreadth away I stopped.
I had never kissed her, not her mouth, not her face. It was never explicit, but I knew it couldn't happen, it wasn't allowed. It was a line that we couldn't cross, not without changing everything.
I hurriedly stood up, pulling away from her, and fled back to the bathroom. She sat up, tugging her wet shirt absently away from her body, and watched me as I packed up my equipment and left. I hissed my mantras, trying to build that wickerwork that Kurt had been teaching me, desperate to keep her out of my mind.
I couldn't let her see what I was thinking. In a way I wished I had learned a technique to keep myself from seeing what I was thinking. It made my stomach twist and my chest ache.
Perhaps I was more sensitive to it after she had played that trick on me, or perhaps she was merely watching me more often, but I felt her eyes on me often during the day, when I was just going about my normal chores of cleaning or serving. She seemed to be drawn to the places I was working. She would even come into the kitchen to complain or interfere or get something to drink if I was there. The mutant servants clearly noticed and started to give me curious looks. The only place she still never came was the downstairs.
It was the library where we always seemed to speak, a place where no one else came besides me with my dust cloth and her with her reading. She didn't pretend to have any ulterior motive in being there, just leaned against the doorframe and watched me.
Finally I couldn't bear her eyes anymore and turned around to face her.
"What is it?"
She frowned, turning away petulantly, but then glanced back, unhappy but intent. "You want me, right?" she asked, roughly. "That's what you meant, isn't it? When you You want me."
Sometimes it was so obvious that she was only sixteen, trying so hard to place something so complex, so impenetrable, in terms she could comprehend. I could do no better.
I nodded weakly.
It was less of a defeat than I had expected. It was only a physical need; it wasn't admitting how I had felt when I had awoken after the first night in her bed.
"Okay," she said, awkwardly, and turned to go. Then she paused and glanced back at me. I knew what she wanted, what she meant, but she said it anyway. "Tonight?"
I nodded again. I would be there.
I wished she hadn't asked.
But that night she made it easy for me, as easy as it could ever be. We followed the script, with all its built in awkwardness and bland, unromantic, passionless eroticism. Then she curled into my back, burrowing her face into the back of my neck. Her hands moved around me, brushing against my breasts as if asking permission, and when I did not react, she curled her palms around them, feeling their weight in her hands. Her fingers brushed my nipples and I couldn't keep my body from stiffening. She laughed into my shoulder, and bolder, rolled them between finger and thumb.
Just in the way she touched my body it seemed clear that she liked it. I found her attraction for me pleasurable, enough to make it easy for her to slide her fingers into me and touch me until I came with a short gasp in her arms. She would often whisper to me afterwards, nothings, just her irritations at Court, lazy daydreams, dirty things, but her tone was always very self-satisfied.
Eventually I found this amusing rather than annoying.
I grew used to this state of affairs, comfortable with her hands on me, even if I never expected it. My wanting her was something I had admitted to, but I had an obligation to serve her, she had none such to serve me. I wondered if I would ever be able to ask for it, to tell her to do it, to fuck me, and expect her to obey, regardless of her own inclination.
I wondered if that was ever possible if there was no obligation. I wondered if she ever asked herself the reverse. Would I ever disobey her? Would I be willing if there was not obligation? I asked myself the same questions.
In the free time I did not spend with Kurt, I attempted to mend my relationship with Jennifer. She had found other companions amongst the slaves, and they were clearly uncomfortable around me. They did not reject me outright, but there was a tension there. And as always, I seemed to be prone to saying the wrong thing. JJ was used to my opinions about work, about finding meaning in the fulfillment of your duties. But her new companions were accustomed to complaining about the requirements of their state of bondage. I would nod and ignore most things as long as they were expressing their opinions, but often I would speak to correct a factual error before I thought about whether it was a good idea.
Working intimately with the butler and cook had made me very familiar with the workings of the house. If a slave was jealous of the lighter duties of a mutant servant, I could often bring evidence that their duties were in fact not any lighter, and they did not have the structure of the downstairs to rely on providing their meals and necessaries. They were uncomfortable with listening to me, but it was hard to argue with bland facts.
It was particularly difficult, for as always, there was the stirring of revolution. If I spoke up when the vitriol against Emma became too fierce, I was ridiculed. I was the mistress' slut. I sympathized with the woman whose bed I warmed. Some of the young men complained that they were never called to her bed. But their complaints were mere bragging about their masculine prowess. They still never touched me, and looked at me with something like disgust, as if they could see mutant fingerprints on my body.
I berated my mistress often in my head. I had a long list of faults and disappointments about her character, but although I could say them to myself, I could not bear to hear them out of anyone else's mouth. It seemed like an odd sort of possessiveness, but perhaps it was just fear. My complaints were complacent. I knew too well that there was nothing I could do to change her. But their words were backed by an ideological passion that spoke to me of blood. Perhaps I thought that if they did not say the words they could not work themselves up to the point of violence.
The rumors that spread through the downstairs were secret and quiet, but they spoke of rebellion. In other parts of the Empire, slaves had risen up and killed their masters. They were then all executed, but the rumors carried the hope of power, the promise of possible success. The stories made me sick. A whole household dead, for what? But if I said anything like that even JJ looked at me oddly.
JJ sat down next to me once and held my hand, asking me why I felt this misplaced loyalty. Didn't I believe that this state of affairs was wrong? Shouldn't we take vengeance for the murder of our parents by the sword?
I didn't believe that mutants deserved to rule, but I didn't believe in bloody revolution either. An idea may be a grand thing, but it is another person on the end of your sword, in the sights of your gun, and as the uprisings and bombings that occurred at infrequent intervals through the capital showed, a violent action provokes a violent response.
But many actions, violent or not, provoke a violent response.
Aaron was still displeased with me for what I had said about the grout, and when he had no other responsibilities for me, he would assign me to work teams. Being on a team meant I was theoretically subordinate to the leader, but it became clear that I was merely on the outside. The leader would make his least favorite team member give me my task, while he would speak in rough whispers to another.
It was the whispers and the eyes that made me uncomfortable. When they looked at me in silent disgust it was one thing, but now they seemed to be evaluating me, and although I did my work, I tried not to say incendiary things, I knew I would eventually fail. I had always failed in their eyes.
When I spoke with Kurt (my reduced free time interfered with our lessons, but we managed to find a few moments to talk) I could see them watching me and shaking their heads. I wanted to smack them with their own ignorance. Emma was one thing, hate the one who owns you, who directs your life, who has the ability to kill you with a thought, and would do so if she thought it was worth the bother. But Kurt did not deserve their hatred.
I needed his friendship. There was something worrying JJ, I could tell, but she would not confide in me. She cried sometimes at night, but she would violently resist any comfort or even a direct order to explain.
The tension downstairs seemed to increase day by day. The fear they had had after the incident that had been instigated by my whipping had faded and was replaced by hatred and anger. I felt that it would only take a single incident to set them off.
And then that incident occurred.
I had been assigned to the dining service, and charged with cleaning the rug while the others set the table and polished the silver. It had been somewhat awkward, because JJ was assigned to the same service and was not speaking to me.
And then Emma came home early. It was only an hour or so before her usual arrival time, but the other slaves hated to be blindsided by her presence. And they particularly hated her coming into a room where they were working. But she had developed the habit of looking for me and sauntered into the dining room as if this was something completely normal.
Everyone froze. I shot her a dark look. She shouldn't be here. I was uncertain if she read my mind, but she seemed to laugh at my accusatory expression. She was just passing through, heading towards the far door, she seemed to say with her body.
I was near the far door and I rolled my eyes at her nonchalant attitude. She laughed silently at my expression. And then she reached me, I was certain she was moving past me and towards the door, when suddenly she was there, at my side, and I looked up, already shocked, and she pressed her lips to mine.
She kissed me absently, as if she had forgotten that she wasn't supposed to. It was barely a kiss, just a moment long, an afterthought, but it was enough.
JJ dropped the tray of silverware she was carrying. It crashed jarringly on the floor. Emma glanced up and considered the surprise on everyone's faces. Then she looked at me. I was too stunned to move. Heat suffused my face and I couldn't tell whether it was with humiliation or arousal. The tops of her cheeks started to flush and she touched my arm. Later, she said, pushing it right into my head, and then turned and strode out, attempting to regain some of her confident carriage.
Everyone saw. Everyone knew that I had crossed those lines, and everyone hated me again.
Then they cornered me in the boiler room.
It was Cyrus and two other men, one bearing a heavy bag of soil. He came up behind me and swung it, hitting me in the backs of my knees and causing me to collapse. Then he brought it down on my back, knocking the wind out of me.
Then he stepped back and they waited for me to recover and get to my feet.
"She'll kill you for this," I hissed, still not thinking before I spoke.
Cyrus smiled. He stepped towards me, his body flush against mine, his thumb brushing across my cheek. "Do you really think so? Do you think if you don't come the next time she calls, she'll come looking for her slut?"
I swallowed hard. "Are you going to kill me?"
"That seems like a waste to me," he purred and glanced back at the man with the bag. "Doesn't it to you?"
He smirked and nodded.
"We just want you to scream when she touches you."
"How can you not be afraid of what she'll do to you?"
"Because she won't get a chance. When she finally remembers you and thinks to look down here, she'll be dead the moment she sets foot on the stairs. We're waiting."
"She took everything from me. She took away my dignity, and now I'm going to get it back." He palmed my breasts, groping them roughly. "I wonder how long it will take her to remember you. Perhaps we'll lock you in here, keep you for our own use, until you starve."
I lashed out at him, more nails and shock than force, but I scratched his face deeply enough to make it bleed. He tore the bag of soil out of the other man's hand and swung it into my stomach, the force slamming me back against the wall.
I cried out in my mind for Emma, but I was no telepath, and I was trapped and isolated in my own mind.
Cyrus brought the bag down overhand, towards my neck and I attempted to block it with my arm. The blow nearly wrenched my shoulder from its socket. I fell to my hands and knees, begging silently for someone to help me.
And then with a sound like a small explosion, Kurt appeared in a cloud of blue smoke. "Ah " he examined the scene with bewilderment. "Emily my lady sent me to look for you."
"The rat! Get him!"
Cyrus pulled an ugly weapon from his belt, a long jagged blade like that of a machete, and lunged for him. There was hardly any room to dodge in the cramped boiler room, and I couldn't let him be hurt. Though half prone I managed to jerk forward and wrap my arms around Cyrus' knees, bringing us both to the floor.
"You bitch!" One of the other men was on my back, grabbing my hair and jerking my head up, the edge of a knife sliding across my throat. I spared one thought to wonder where on earth they had gotten these weapons, and another to face the immediacy of my death. I would die there. I wouldn't be raped at least, a small comfort, but I would die.
Suddenly a blue pointed tail wrapped around the knife and the man's wrist and jerked it away from my throat. I rose up, shoving the man off of me, and reached out, catching Kurt's proffered hand.
And with a bang we disappeared.
We reappeared in the library, I stumbled away from Kurt, shocked and motion-sick, and fell into Emma who caught me like it was a surprise.
I told them quickly about the threats, about the plans, and Kurt quickly left and he and the other footmen put the entire downstairs into lockdown.
I had to tell the story again to Mr. Cage, Emma pacing along the edges of the room, and then things started happening with a speed I could barely comprehend.
The downstairs was cleared, the weapons caches taken away and destroyed. The slaves were all locked in the cafeteria and any found outside of it were killed on sight. When the entire downstairs had been ripped apart, walls torn down, flooring torn up, people's personal possessions burnt, the interviews began.
I watched them. Not by choice, but my mistress never gave me permission to leave.
If they were resistant they were drugged, given a sedative to make them compliant, and Kurt and Jessica would bring them into the room. Then my mistress would break open their mind and discover their knowledge of the plot, their degree of support for it, and their ability to be broken.
JJ cried. She had just known enough to be afraid, and she had known it was a threat to me, but felt helpless in the face of everyone's determination.
The ringleaders were separated from the followers, and the few who had not been involved, due to some complications in their thoughts, whether a dislike of violence, or a familial link to mutants which they had hidden among their fellows, were spared.
The followers were sold.
The ringleaders were executed.
I watched the executions from a high balcony, near where Emma stood, also watching, her eyes hard and cold.
It wasn't until they put the bag on Cyrus' head and turned him to face the wall that I realized I had become exactly what Irina told me I would.
I had done it without doubt, without hesitation. My own life had been in danger, but I had known that for long enough and done nothing about it. When Emma's life had been threatened, I had chosen to send them to their deaths.
Was I protecting the greater part over the majority? I could not say that, for there were so few left here, even if less than half had actually been killed.
I had chosen to protect my mistress alone, but my rationale was simple. My fate was tied to hers. It was by none of my doing, nor of hers. I was always an outcast from my own kind, and as there was no one else willing to open her arms to me, I had to protect the only thing I had left.
While they cleaned the blood up in the courtyard and began reconstructing the downstairs, my mistress left to stay at her summerhouse. I was told to go with her. It wasn't as if I could refuse.
I sat in the back of the car as we drove into the mountains, arms wrapped around my knees, watching the city fade away in the trees and vines. The bloodstains were still visible before my eyes. I clutched my letter of marque and watched the skies for sentinels, wondering if I managed to throw it away, would they come for us, would they destroy us. I wished for justice in a world that lacked it. Not human justice, nor mutant justice, I didn't believe either of those existed, but something beyond that. Whether it was divinity or fate or cruel coincidence, I needed some evidence that I would be punished here and now for what I had done. But the only recriminations were in my own mind, and I knew, too well, that such pain would fade the moment I forgot to lacerate myself with regret.
I forgot as we pulled into the compound. It was beautiful there, a small building surrounded by jungle, with hot vivid blooms, and a cool still pool fed by a waterfall. It was paradise, and there was nowhere I belonged less. The servants generally ignored me. They could run things on their own here. There was no need for a liaison to the slaves when there were none. Kurt had stayed behind to help with the reconstruction. He had promised to keep Jennifer safe. The other servants assumed I had been brought for one purpose alone. I was not even given a place to sleep. But if not called for, I would not intrude into my mistress' presence. I did my best to stay out of the way, to remain invisible.
The library was small, but private, and none of the servants ever entered it, so I spent the first night on the sofa in there. I spent much of the next few days there, reading. I hadn't had the opportunity to do so before, not for years, not since I had become a slave, and I was out of practice.
At first I was afraid to touch anything, so I would only read what was out, marking the places with my finger and paging though carefully, doing my best to leave no trace. It was an odd collection of works, some new histories of the mutant era, others old philosophical texts.
There were many by members of the Frankfurt School, which were made even more beautiful by the way they continued to write, pursue their goals, when they were fleeing or hiding from persecution and violence. How many others had made choices like I had? How many had turned against their own to save themselves? But what they had done was try so desperately to understand what had made their world turn against them, the lies people told, the beliefs that they clung to in the face of insurmountable evidence. The mutants had taken them as their heroes, as models of how live under oppression. But now, after the revolution, they had taken on the role of the oppressor, and their histories were chilling evidence of the way a story could recreate the truth.
I was reading an account of the massacre in Louisiana, where small cadres of mutants had wiped out an entire regiment by surrounding them with wooden palisades, spraying them with highly flammable substances, and burning them to death. I wondered if that was where Jennifer's father had died. It was celebrated as a great tactical success, a miracle of mutants with disparate powers working together against overwhelming odds. Now it was a holiday. There had been so much death, vile and ugly and irrational. It hadn't stopped, would never stop, and I was trying not to be sick when I felt someone watching me. Emma was standing in the doorway, looking at me, an unreadable expression on her face.
I dropped the book as if it were on fire and shoved it away from me, then ducked my head. But she just walked in and pulled a particular book off a high shelf. She tossed it at me. "Here," she said. "You might like this better."
Then she selected another and left.
The book was entitled Captain Blood. It seemed to be a tale about pirates and adventures, and I hoped it would be meaningless, but interesting enough to keep my mind absorbed. I needed something relaxing. But the very first chapter told the story of a young idealistic doctor being sold into slavery because he was foolish enough to believe his duty as a doctor was above politics, and in the humanity of a Christian nation.
It was the story of a man who lost his ideals, and found them again in his mistress' imagined disapproval. It was about becoming a slave, a slave who fell in love with his mistress. And even when he escaped, to become a pirate, the ultimate freedom, without country, without morals, he still was bound by this love. And when he found the fantasy to be false, he lost, not only his inclination to be good, but his hope. And without hope, one cannot even counterfeit freedom.
I could not bring myself to stop reading.
He was more proud than I, and yet I could not help my tears as I neared the end. What a fantasy, to choose honor over violence, to gain a reprieve, be given power and respect, and to be allowed to choose mercy.
It was well imagined, and the difficulty of choosing mercy, the weakness of a man's character was accurately described. Accurately how would I know? I had never, would never, choose mercy if I saw a risk in it. A dead man never took revenge.
She called for me that night.
I couldn't see her anymore, that was the trouble. When I looked at her, frowning at me sternly from her perch, cross-legged on her bed, as I hovered in the doorway, unable to bring myself to cross the threshold, all I could see was her bland impassive expression as people were murdered in front of her, at her command. They had wanted to kill her, tried to, imagined it, had done their utmost to brutalize and murder me. But if I felt so little, I was certain that she felt less. I blamed her for my own lack of mercy, my inhumane desire for vengeance.
"Come here," she snapped, frustrated with my hesitance.
I came towards her, stood immobile, waiting for her next command. Her expression stiffened as she noticed my resistance. She slid forward, letting her feet drop off the edge of the bed.
I knelt. She grabbed my hair, jerking me forward, and I bit, sinking my teeth into the soft flesh of her thigh. She shoved me in response, backhanding me sharply across the face.
I knelt unmoved, as expressionless as I could make myself, tasting the iron of blood in my mouth. I thought about what she had said about none of us being free. I wondered if I was a person to her, who was allowed to have feelings, opinions, moods. I didn't feel like a person. She treated me like a loyal dog, but I acted like a dog. I didn't know if she could really interact with someone else as if they were a person, but for myself, I wasn't able to speak, I couldn't express my own feelings. I couldn't do anything, not even tell her, "No. Not tonight. I can't touch you when my hands are soaked in their blood. I can't pretend to be your lover when I finally know what it means to be your slave." I was more useless than she.
"Fine." My mistress dropped back on her bed, bringing her knees up, and rubbing the small mark I had made on her leg. "Whatever. Just get out."
I didn't want to go. I realized that unhappily. I couldn't sit on my feelings heavily enough to acquiesce to touching her, but I didn't want to be tossed out either. I didn't want to spend another night alone. I sat there hating myself, until she gave me a furious look. "Go away!"
I slept on the floor in the hall outside of her door.
She tripped over me on her way out that morning, then scowled, and jerked me to my feet. "Come on."
I followed her ashamedly out to the waterfall pool. I sat on the edge, near the deep still water, watching, while she stripped off to swim. She dove in, apathetic to my presence, and started swimming laps across the length of the pool. The light hit her bare pale skin when it surfaced as she moved. The splashing from the waterfall muffled the noise of her motion and around me the morning grew warm quickly.
Finishing what seemed like exercise, she paddled over to me, and watched me back. She looked calmer than usual. Her eyes took on the color of the water, glinting like blue chips of a sapphire in her face. Her hair had darkened to a soft honey brown. She seemed to consider me. I met her eyes, but impassively, giving her nothing. Then she grabbed my ankle and dragged me in.
I couldn't swim. I sank to the bottom, pushing against the slippery rocks to try and surface. There was a moment of air and I tried to breathe, but was going down again, and sucked in water that burned my throat. Floundering and coughing, half drowned, I somehow found my arms around her neck, and clung to her. She held me up, easily. I gasped, recovering myself, and finally I probed about with my feet until they touched. I realized that I could stand on the bottom and the water only brushed against my shoulders.
Shocked and cold and wet, my hair dripping water in my eyes, my heart still fluttering from panic, I stared at her, as she laughed at me, and I couldn't help thinking about the one ill-considered kiss that had brought all this to a head. Maybe it was only to shut her mocking mouth, but I pulled up, twisting my fingers in her tangled wet hair, and kissed her, roughly.
Her grip dug deeply into the backs of my arms and she didn't push me away. She kissed back, pressing against me. Her hands moved under the water to close on my waist, sliding up under my billowing shirt. I just cupped the back of her head and kissed her harder. She opened her mouth to me and I took it, took everything that she was giving.
This wasn't us. This didn't feel anything like us. I hated myself so much already that I didn't even remember I was supposed to hate myself for this. I bit down on her lower lip and her hands slid down my trousers, cupping my ass and pulling my hips into hers. I took the opportunity to touch her, touch everything I could. I wasn't gentle, but neither was she, and the cold water soothed any bruises we might have left behind.
We had sex there, rough simple sex, just hard grips and fingers pressing inside, and then moved up to collapse exhausted on the hot golden sand. I squirmed out of my stiff drenched clothing and spread it out to dry, before rolling back into the hollow made by my body. I lay still, staring up at the deep blue of the African sky, letting her fingers trace patterns on my skin with scratchy traces of sand.
"I don't know if I like who I am," I said, to no one.
"You are what you are," she said, as if it weren't a reply. But her fingers stilled, and there was nothing but silence after from us, though the air was full of birds crying.
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