And your voice is all I heard
That I get what I deserve
So give me reason
After All in a Day's Work
Regine had company, and Ambrus hated it. He stood in the kitchen of her cottage, crafting hors d’oeuvres, because that way she wouldn’t tell him to leave. She and her company – two lanky nerd-looking types, who didn’t have the grace to be clumsy or ugly or even that nerdy – sat in the living room, pouring over her diagrams and talking about something he thought was probably genetics.
One of them, Falk, she’d introduced as her brother, and he had the same look to him as she did, blonde and lean and nearly-perfect - although his skin was marred by three lines of iridescent blue scales - so that was okay. The other one, though – just as lanky, just as tall, more buff and more chiseled than Ambrus could ever hope to be – he was a problem. And, smug and self-confident, he knew it.
When he’d bothered to notice Ambrus – for about three seconds, as Regine had introduced him (as “my assistant,” whatever that was supposed to mean) – he’d sneered down at him, like he was some sort of bug, and not a very interesting one at that. Falk at least had shaken his hand.
And now that they were there, talking about things he probably wouldn’t understand even if he’d had an education of any sort, Regine was focused entirely on them. Mike and Maureen were handling the day-to-day concerns of the project, and Ambrus, unless Maureen was pointing him at a target or Regine was scolding him for being underfoot, was ignored completely.
“Sulking?” Startled, he looked up, to see Liv standing outside the kitchen window, smirking at him.
“No,” he pouted. The knowledge that he sounded like a child made him all the more sullen. “Making finger food.”
“Just eat the fingers, it saves time,” she advised. “Why don’t you quit that and come hang out?”
“I…” He didn’t really have a reason. He’d already made more than enough appetizers to serve as a meal for seven or eight people.
“Come on out and we’ll talk.”
“Can I finish this platter first? I’m almost done.”
“Only if you bring half of them out to share.”
“… okay.” Liv, at least, would appreciate his work. He put the last touches on the cheesy little snacks and divided them onto two trays. “I’ll be out in just a moment.”
“I’ll be here.”
“So you’re saying the genes that separate Ellehemaei from humans ought to be mappable?” the non-related scientist – Shane, his name was – was saying. They were studying something that looked like it ought to be an ordinary family tree, except that ordinary family trees were never that big, that convoluted, or that full of tiny little notations.
“I’m saying that we can know it, we can map it, and that, given enough samples of half-breeds, those that stand between humanity and the Ellehemaei – no offense, Falk.”
“None taken,” her brother answered dryly. Ambrus, who after four months here still seemed stubbornly human, nothing more than the “Faded” who had a tiny bit of fae blood in them, didn’t bother to get offended either as he set down the tray of food.
“Thank you, Ambrus. Given enough samples of half-breeds, we can begin to trace what it is that makes a half-breed, rather than either a full-blooded Ellehemaei or a Faded, and if there are, indeed, genetic factors or just…”
Ambrus took his leave, not quite fleeing back to the kitchen and, snacks in hand, out the back door. True to her word, Liv was waiting under the shade of a perfectly-shaped maple tree. “So where do you want to go?” she demanded, as she grabbed a bacon-cheese-and-cracker snack off the tray.
She did that to him – push him into making decisions, ask him what he liked, put him in situations where he had a chance to find out. She and Keaira seemed to delight in it.
He didn’t know if he liked it. He wasn’t used to thinking about what he liked, for one thing, but for another, he remembered what it had been like, when Ian had bought him from Lana. He’d lost his focus and his training in the months she’d had him, lost his ability to shut up and do as he was told. And here he was losing it again. Ian’s retraining had been long and unpleasant; he didn’t want to go through the same thing when Regine sold him to his next owner.
Today, already unhappy, he resisted. “Whatever you want is fine.”
She glared at him. “I want you to make a decision.”
“I don’t like making decisions,” he sulked, growing frustrated. “They never do any good.”
Her glare took on a confused tinge. “You like having your life decided for you by other people?”
She didn’t get it. But how could she? “Whether I like it or not doesn’t matter. Whatever I like doesn’t matter.” Was she going to keep pushing it?
Yes. “How can you say that?”
“Because I’m a slave.” he snapped. “Because I don’t get to make choices about my life. Whether or not I want them to, someone else will always be making those decisions for me.”
“Well, if you keep thinking like that, yes, they will.” She shook her head at him. “Until you learn to stand on your own, people are always going to walk all over you.”
“People don’t…” He narrowed his eyes as he tasted her emotions. She knew what was going on, or at least had some idea, and she was baiting on purpose. He finished his sentence anyway, wondering what she was getting at. “They don’t buy me and feed me and house me because they want me to have opinions of my own.”
That was what she’d wanted him to say – but why?
“And is that what Regine wants out of you?”
“I don’t know!” She’d been walking them slowly towards the park as they argued; he flopped down on a bench and looked up at her, hoping she would understand. “I do what she asks of me. I think I’m doing well. But most of the time, I get the feeling she’d rather she could just turn me off and put me in a closet when she was done with me. I mean, she could-” Ian had, after all “-but she doesn’t. She just says ‘thank you, Ambrus,’ and sends me back to my cabin.” Which wasn’t all that different, except that his “closet” was the whole Village.
“So you’re fed, housed, kept rather well, and you’re still not happy.”
“Well, sort of.” He was better treated than he’d been in years, and he had more freedom than he’d ever had. “I should be, though.”
“I’ve never known ‘should’ to have a lot to do with happiness. Come on.” She grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet. “We can go down to the creek.”
He liked the creek, especially down by the small decorative bridge outside the village; the water seemed to drown out the excess noise, and left him alone in his own mind, a rare luxury.
“See?” she smiled at him, “you’re happier already. So food, shelter, what’s missing?”
“Punishment?” He hadn’t yet gotten brave enough to test the limits of the few restrictions she’d put on him, but, with her new company taking even more of her attention, he was getting close.
She looked at him speculatively for a moment. “You mean attention, don’t you?”
He considered that in turn. “Attention?”
“You know, when someone’s talking to you? Or not, I guess, but you know that they’re thinking about you?”
…Being put away in his tiny little room like a doll who was no longer entertaining, and crying, even though he knew he would be punished, no, because he knew that, so that Ian would take him back out, would scold him and beat him and, for a moment, be acknowledging he existed…
“Oh,” he whispered, hoping he wasn’t blushing as hotly as he thought he was, “yes. Yeah, attention.”
“Does it have to be painful?” she asked, so matter-of-fact about it that he lost all embarrassment and focused on trying to find her an answer.
“I don’t… I don’t think so,” he tried, cautiously. “But if she were hurting me, at least she’d be thinking about me while she was doing it.” Maybe. He wasn’t even sure about that.
“Well, she could be praising you, too; she’d be thinking about you then.”
“Praise?” He blinked at her in confusion. “For what?”
“Well, she’s given you a lot of leeway, and you’ve done everything she wants you to, right?”
“I guess so. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“And the girls love you. And the boys,” she winked.
“Well, I’m good at it. At making them love me.” He hunched his shoulders up. What did she want him to say?
“You are! And you should get praise for that!” She patted his shoulder gently. “The problem is, Regine wouldn’t know an emotion if it bit her in the ass. She doesn’t know you need feedback and attention. So you’ll either have to talk to her about it, or someone else will have to talk to her about it, or you’re going to have to find a way to get your attention from someone else.”
“Um.” His stomach cramped just thinking about it. He knew what happened when he tried that. Any of those. “I’ll be…” Okay, he meant to say, but his gut disagreed. He bent over with the pain, clamping his mouth shut. Even Liv wouldn’t like him if he puked on her shoes.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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