Chapter 51: Jamian
And I know there will be mistakes that I will make
But I know none are worse than chances I don't take
Right before your eyes, I am changing

Saturday morning found Jamian waking to much the same situation as the last two mornings had – alone in his own bed, under enforced house arrest, with a baby-sitter sitting watch over him. This morning, it was Joff, soundly asleep and snoring softly. Asleep, the little elf boy looked far younger and more vulnerable. His face settled into an almost babyish roundness, and his corn-silk-blonde hair fell across his face. His knees were curled up to his chest, and Jamian half-expected to find him sucking his thumb.

He brushed the boy’s hair out of his face – it felt as soft as it looked, like petting silk – and smiled a little wryly. The kid was clearly not cut out for the job of jailer, but he’d been very patient with Jamian over the past couple days – and even more patient with Ty, who’d been needing an extra-big dose of tolerance lately. He seemed, more than anyone, to understand what was wrong inside Ty’s psyche. Jamian wished there’d been a time to talk about it, but they were rarely left alone for long.

And now that they were alone, Joff was sound asleep. Jamian eyed the door, thinking of wandering out somewhere – he could; they’d told him to stay in his room, but no-one had bothered any more enforcement than his Succubus Committee of baby-sitters.

That would just get Joff in trouble. He headed for the shower instead. At least in there, he could be alone. Alone was getting hard to come by; they seemed afraid that he’d blow up if left alone, or start sucking the marrow out of nearby students.

It was kind of strange. Ivette and Joff didn’t seem to have a problem with him, but Professor VanderLinden alternated between treating him like a bomb about to go off and handling him with kid gloves. And Professor Reid treated him like a five-year-old learning to walk.

At least they were all teaching him. It seemed as if there was nothing but teaching sometimes; every waking moment would be filled with instructions, most of which he didn’t understand, some of which he wasn’t sure his teachers understood. Then, abruptly, the instruction would be stopped for an ad-hoc discussion on “don’t be evil.”

Those conversations were even weirder than the training. It was as if VanderLinden and Ivette really wanted him to understand the importance of the color purple, but yet they had never, themselves, seen purple – or, perhaps, as if they’d never even seen in color. Joff was a little better – but it was more like he knew that purple existed only because he’d extrapolated it from a life full of orange. There was something horribly kicked-puppy about his voice when he tried to talk about it, so Jamian did his best to change the subject.

They all seemed really intent on making sure he understood… well, something. It never seemed to be much more clear than don’t be evil, although sometimes it got as clear as don’t suck people’s souls. Since the rest of his time was spent teaching him how to not suck people’s souls – along with more general lessons on how to not use his new power at all – he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. It seemed rude to mention that, though, so he tried to pay attention.

Once in the bathroom, the door locked behind him, he stripped off his clothes and set the shower to somewhere between scalding and boiling. Long practice let him get into the shower without seeing himself in the mirror, but the tail still threw him off; he could see its twitching reflection out of the corner of his eye.

Well… The full-length mirrors in the bathrooms seemed a bit sadistic, in a school full of students turning into monsters, but it was beginning to seem like the changes that should horrify him weren't the physical ones. He turned back to the mirror and looked hard at what he was becoming.

Ignore the breasts, though they were getting bigger. If he looked at them too long, he’d tweak. Ignore the shoulders, too; they’d always been too feminine.

His face was still his face. He still didn’t have a beard, but that was no surprise. From navel to chin he still looked like himself. Itself. Screw it. My self. The horns sticking out of his hair were weird, like little baby goat horns, but they didn’t look that bad by themselves. They’d stick out like a sore thumb in public, but that thing that everyone seemed to know how to do, the Mask thing that had hidden things like Shiva’s tail and her cat ears, and Magnolia’s spots, could probably hide his horns, too.

And the tail. He twisted around to look at it. It was kinda cool, though it got in the way when he was sitting, and sometimes when he was standing, and he’d trod on it more than once when standing up, and, unlike every tailed superhero he’d ever seen in cartoons, he couldn’t pick anything up with it. But it was a little badass anyway, when it behaved.

“So,” he said to his reflection, “this is what a Daeva looks like, hunh?” Professor VanderLinden had promised him that, when he mastered the art of not-eating-people’s-souls, he’d start teaching him the shape-shifting that, he said, was part of the package of being a full-blooded Daeva. He’d even given a small demonstration. It looked creepy, very creepy, but the possibilities, the idea of being able to just be a guy, all the way down to the bone, and stay that way as long as he wanted – for that, he was willing to put up with a lot of creepy.

He squinted, and tried to imagine his body more masculine. Less hips. Wider ribcage, no breasts. The freedom to take off his shirt in gym, and not stand out as the freak that didn’t. And your teacher and your new friends are afraid you’re going to suck people’s life force out their ears, like some creepy vampire. It wasn’t fun, but maybe, if he showed them he wasn’t going to be a monster, they’d let up.

“Jamian?” The doorknob jiggled, turning Jamian’s blood cold. He scrambled for a towel, shit, that’s not going to work… realized he was projecting his panic, and swallowed, picturing a green horse on a sandy plain. “Jame?” Another door-knob rattle. “Is everything all right in there?”

He pulled his pants back on and found his shirt. “I’m fine, Joff.”

“You’re shielding.” His voice, normally so quiet and deferential, sounding accusing and angry.

“You’ve been pounding funny-colored animals into my head for days now, of course I’m shielding.”

“Open the door, please.”

“Can’t a guy get a shower?” He glared at the door.

“Oh.” He sounded a little chagrined “You were gone when I woke up, and I was worried. And you’d locked the door…” The doorknob rattled again.

“Geez,” Jamian sighed. “All right, all right.” He opened the door, but didn’t look right at the little elf. Sure, he could just read his emotions, but there was no use making it easy for him. “You were sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake you. I don’t need round-the-clock minding, you know. I can shower myself.”

“I know.” Jamian glanced over, to find the boy blushing miserably. “I shouldn’t have interrupted, but if anything happened to you, they’d never forgive me. Ty would never forgive me.”

“Oh, hell.” He flopped down on the bed. “Look, I’m okay. I’m not going to explode, and I’m not going to do anything stupid. I promise, all right?”

The boy just frowned more. “You shouldn’t go throwing around promises like… oh.” He blinked. “You’re Owned, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Jamian muttered. “I thought everyone knew that.”

“I don’t get out much,” he shrugged.

“You, either?” He couldn’t work up much bitterness about it, though. “What’s it like?”

“Being Owned?” He blinked. “Don’t… well, I guess it’s different for you. You didn’t know what you were getting into, did you?” At Jamian’s mute head shake, he made a disapproving noise. “I wish people wouldn’t do that. It never works out well.”

“You knew what you were getting into?” He shook his head incredulously. “And you still did it?”

“Yeah,” Joff blushed. “I sort of made him do it. Well… I mean,” he trailed off, clearly uncomfortable.

Him. Hunh. “You, what, hit him with a stick until he agreed to Own you?” The image was ridiculous, silly enough that Joff managed a little smile.

“No,” he shook his head, “though I guess I could have. I just followed him around until he agreed.”

“You wanted to be Owned that badly?”

“Kind of, yeah. I…” He looked down at the floor.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jamian said hurriedly. “I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just…Ty…” he trailed off.

“Yeah,” Joff agreed. “Ty can be a little much sometimes. It’s kind of high-strung, I guess?”

He flinched. “Yeah. High-strung.”

“It’s not hurting you, is it?”

“No! God, no! Just…” He lowered his voice, and thought intently about green horses for a minute. Some of Joff’s kicked-puppy moments were beginning to become uncomfortably clear. “He… she… she, I guess, just confuses me sometimes. It’s like her emotions are all over the place; she’ll start crying for no reason sometimes, just out of the blue!”

“There’s a reason for that,” Joff said quietly.


Chapter 51b: Jamian
‘Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

Jamian glared at the tiny elf. “Being a hermaphrodite doesn’t make you unstable!” he said hotly.

“No,” Joff replied calmly, “but being pregnant can.”

“Pregnant?” He stared at the boy, reaching for his emotions. He was open, as if showing all his cards – and he was entirely serious. “But how? I mean, we haven’t…” he blushed even thinking about it. “Has she…” he struggled past a sudden lump in his throat, “I mean, been sleeping with someone-else?” And when had she found the time? “Niki? Phelen?” Was she going somewhere else for it because he wasn’t ready? If he manned up - ha! - would she stop, or was he going to have to live with being second fiddle?

“I’m sorry,” Joff interjected, “that’s not what I meant to say! I don’t think Tya is sleeping with anyone else. I’m sure she’s not sleeping with Nikita anymore.”

The tension lifted, just a little. “Then how?”

“She’s not, as far as I know, pregnant right now. But …” Joff trailed off, frowning. “You really ought to hear this from Ty, but I think you need to understand. Tya had a baby, just a month before school started.”

“Ty… Tya has a kid?”

“Ty has three kids, Jamian,” he answered gently. “You’d be hard-pressed to find someone past their first year here who doesn’t have at least one kid.”

“Wait, what?” He stared at the boy, certain he’d heard wrong. “You’re fucking with me, right?”

Joff shook his head slowly. “‘Fraid not. I mean, there are exceptions – Tolly, for one – but, well, everyone in your suite has at least one child. Or, at least, they’ve fathered or carried at least one child. Some people here don’t do anything that could be called parenting.”

Jamian waved that aside. “So… Phelen has a kid?” It was easier to think about that than about Tya sleeping with someone else. “Where…? there aren’t any kids in the suite.” Not that he’d looked in Phelen’s room, but kids, he was pretty sure, weren’t like pets you could keep hidden in your dorm room.

“The Village.”

“What, Greenwich? That’s kind of a stretch.”

Joff giggled. “No. The village here.” He pointed upwards. “It’s above ground, sort of next to the school.”

“There’s a village out there? All I saw was a barn.”

“You can’t see it from the outside. It’s kind of weird,” he shrugged, “but you can’t see the Village from outside of it at all.”

“I’m not sure anything here counts as weird anymore. Tails, horns, soul-sucking… so Ty has kids, like, right outside the school?”

“Yeah. They live with, um, with Ty’s maternal parent.”

“That’s a kind of funny way of putting that.”

“Gender gets funny when you’re dealing with Daeva half-breeds sometimes. D.J. – Ty’s mom – is a hermaphrodite, too.”

“And everyone knows it?”

“Well, yeah. There’s not much point in hiding it down here, around a whole bunch of other Ellehemaei, is there?”

Good question. “If Ty’s, ah, maternal parent – really? That’s a silly way of putting that. If Ty’s mom is open about it, I guess that explains why he – it? – is so comfortable.” And why I’m not, I guess.

“Most people here just go with the pronoun the person is using at the time,” Joff said gently.

“It’s common enough that there’s some sort of standard?”

“Well, not really. I mean, I’m cy’Linden, which is a little different. We’re used to Ty and to Professor VanderLinden.”

“So you know Ty pretty well?” He couldn’t bring himself to be jealous of the kid; he seemed so entirely harmless.

“As well as anyone could, I guess. We’ve never dated or anything.”

Jamian dismissed that with a hand-wave. “I think the people who date Ty probably know him the least.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. And vice-versa, of course.” Joff glanced at the wall, a long blond curl obscuring his face. “A lot of times, Keepers have very little idea what’s going on with their Kept, and they don’t often want to know, either.”

“That seems kind of shitty.” But that’s kind of how Ty was, wasn’t it? They hadn’t had much time to talk about anything, and Tya derailed most of it with kissing.

“Some people who have Kept are pretty shitty people.” He was still looking at the wall. It wasn’t a very interesting wall, all things considered. It needed a window, but there wouldn’t be anything to see except the hallway.

“Not Ty.”

“Ty isn’t awful. But would you know if he was?”

“Yeah, of course I would.”

“Maybe.” He shook his head, letting more of his hair obscure his face. He was shielding hardcore, so emotionally blank that it was hard to believe he was there. “But Meshach locked me in a closet for an entire weekend and I still thought he hung the moon.”

His voice was as flat as his emotions, so dead that it took a minute for the enormity of what he’d said sink in. “Locked you in a closet? Why?”

Joff shrugged jerkily. “He wanted to?” His voice was rapidly losing the deadness. “I probably did something that upset him, or broke a rule. It was hard to tell. The rules kept changing.” His fists were clenched on his lap. “Nothing I did was ever good enough. Now, now I think that it didn’t matter at all; he just liked to punish me. But when he Owned me, all I could think of was trying to be good enough, not that he wouldn’t hurt me, but that he’d be pleased with me.” He looked up at Jamian, his eyes a little wild. “Even when… even when I was afraid that he’d leave scars, what worried me more was that he was unhappy. Do you understand?”

“No,” Jamian admitted. “Why did you let him do those things to you?”

“He Owned me. I couldn’t stop him.”

The stark acceptance in his voice was terrifying. Jamian blinked at him, the words landing like stones in his consciousness. He Owned me. I couldn’t stop him. “I… I don’t…” He couldn’t even form the thoughts properly, much less the words. If he didn’t Belong to Ty, would he want him anymore? “I don’t want Ty to do that to me,” he finished lamely.

“I know,” Joff said. “You shouldn’t want to be Owned. No-one should. But when you’re there, you can’t really think about being free.”

Jamian nodded a little. That was how he felt; his brain told him he ought to want to be free, but the thought was terrifying and horrible. But…

“But didn’t you say that you followed – um – your Keeper around until he agreed to Own you?”

“Yeah,” Joff blushed, and looked at the floor. “I’m sort of broken.”

“Broken? What do you mean?”

“I…” He flopped down on the bed, on the far side from Jamian and not looking at him. “I don’t do well alone. I can’t sleep if I’m alone in a bed – not well, at least, not without drugs. And,” he sighed softly. “I’m not really a manly man. You might have noticed?”

“A little.” He couldn’t help but smile. There were girls at the school more masculine than Joff.

“Well, the bullies here kind of like everyone to be in nice tidy relationships. I think it’s just part of the whole … thing here. So they get a little heavy-handed, sometimes, with people who aren’t in crews or aren’t dating anyone.”

“Lovely.” Bullies in his old school had been heavy-handed, usually for whatever pretense of a reason made them happy at the time. He’d gotten his share of the torment until he learned to hit back, and, more importantly, to fight dirty. ”I guess, in a way, Ty did me a favor.” He frowned. “But couldn’t you just have dated someone? Did you have to be Owned?”

Joff’s blush grew hotter, and he curled his knees up to his chest. “Race nougat,” he muttered, or something like that.

“What?” He tried to sound gentle about it. Joff looked like he was going to curl himself up tighter and tighter until he vanished, and he wasn’t sure VanderLinden would look fondly on him making another one of his Students vanish.

“Rafe’s not gay,” he said, lifting his face from his knees just long enough to say it. “I could sort of trail around behind him until he decided I needed a keeper, but dating him took longer.”

“But you’re dating him now?”

“Yeah.” Joff smiled shyly at Jamian, a smile that was stunningly bright, from lips that were startlingly kissable… and then the shine was gone, and he was a cute little elf boy again. “I’m an incubus. And he’s not really that straight.”

“Um… oh.” He blinked. “Does it work like that?” Was that what Ty was doing to him?

“Only for a couple of us. And only with people that are on the fence to start with. Look, speaking of incubi and Daeva half-breeds and stuff, there’s something you need to know about…”

A perfunctory knock on the door cut him off, and Ty entered. “Hey, sweetie, I…” He took in the scene on the bed. “Um, hi.”


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