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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
The last chapter ran long, so this one is short.

"Listen up, you cagey bastard," Hanna said, shoving Jesse hard in the chest so that he stumbled backwards; she stepped forward at him, through the door. "I've got a bone or two to pick with you, and I don't mind yanking them out of you with my bare hands-- hi, Quen--"

"Hey, Hanna," said Quen, beaming. "How are you?"

Jesse had recovered his balance and was backing away, putting up his hands to shield himself from Hanna.

"Well, I've got a confused, disoriented, terrified kid on my hands," she answered, still advancing on Jesse, "which is mostly your fault, you fucking dipshit. What the hell do you mean, not explaining a fucking thing to her?"

She shoved him again; his back hit the wall as he said, "I did! I did explain! Quen, tell her I explained!"

"I wasn't there, baby," said Quen apologetically.

"You," said Hanna, stabbing her index finger into the center of Jesse's chest. "You, you break into the house where she's been for less than twelve hours, after her master gets arrested and she gets picked up by a guy she knows as the slave breaker, and then, oh get this, this is my favorite part, the fucking lock gets fucking shot out by a gang of thugs in masks who point guns at her--"

"Nobody pointed a gun at Gwen!" said Jesse, his hands over his face now as Hanna slapped at him. "Loki, calm the fuck down!"

"I ought to have brought a fucking gun," said Hanna, giving him one last clout to the ear before turning away and sitting down on the couch, hard. "See how you like having one brandished in your face-- although at least you'd have legal recourse since you're not a helpless slave--"

"Hey," said Jesse, scowling and rubbing at his ear as he came to sit down next to her. "Everybody here knows what it's like to be a helpless slave, so get off your damn high horse if--"

"You'd never know you knew it," Hanna interrupted. "At least I seem to remember how terrifying it is not to have the faintest idea why things are being done to you that you have no fucking control over-- and you kidnap the kid and drive her out of the country, all night long, and when she gets to me all she can tell me is that it had something to do with making sure her master didn't have grounds to press charges against Larssen, and Larssen had a bruised face and they kept talking about the hospital and you didn't even fucking tell her where you were taking her--"

"I did!" Jesse protested. "I told her we were taking her over the border, I told her she was going to be free, I told her we had people who'd talk to her and that you and I both used to belong to Larssen-- I told her stuff till I was blue in the face!"

"You're hopeless," said Hanna, abruptly and wearily slumping backwards. "It's not your fault. I shouldn't abuse the afflicted. Quen, I'm sorry I attacked your pet moron."

"That's okay," said Quen cheerfully. "He probably deserved it. Didn't you, Jess?"

"Just because I don't anticipate every single stupid little question," Jesse muttered. "I got her out, didn't I? Before that Dunaev character could get out of jail and beat her to death for existing in the same world as that damn magazine article?"

"You," said Hanna, jabbing her index finger towards him again; he recoiled instinctively, though she didn't come anywhere close, "are going to start at the beginning, and tell me the whole story, in order, including the parts about bruises and jail and guns and masks and magazine articles, and if you leave anything out I am going to beat you to death for existing in the same world as Gwen. Start now."

"I'm sorry," had been Gwen's first words when they woke up together in the single bed; she hadn't moved, just lay very still as Hanna unwrapped her arms from around the bony little frame and sat up, running a hand backwards through her hair to smooth it.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Hanna said gently. "You're free to do as you like, now, and I was just as free to stop you-- I didn't, because I didn't mind holding you. And I won't mind, in the future, if you need to be touched or hugged. I don't know how much physical affection you've been used to, but I can tell you that a lot of my clients need that from me, and I don't mind at all. I'm perfectly willing to hug you and hold you. I'm not willing to do anything sexual, though-- kissing, or caressing in a sensual, erotic way-- do you understand the difference?"

Gwen nodded. "Why one and not the other?"

"For the same reason that I'll make suggestions, but I won't give you orders," said Hanna. "You were a sex slave, which means that your sexuality has a strong link to your instinct to behave like a slave, right now. If you and I were to have sex, you could very easily, in your current vulnerable state, start thinking of me as your owner, or something like your owner. And I'm not, Gwen. I'm your friend and your counselor, not your mistress. It's my job to help you settle into life as a free person, not provide a slavery substitute by acting as an owner would. Does that make sense?"

Gwen nodded again, slowly. "How long before I can have sex?"

"I don't get to tell you that," said Hanna. "You can have sex with anyone who's willing-- you're free now. I can give you some advice, but you're not bound to follow it."

"Fine," said Gwen, her tone edged with impatience. "How long before you advise me to have sex?"

"I"m not being pedantic just for the sake of it, Gwen," said Hanna quietly. "These are important distinctions. If you start treating my suggestions as orders, obeying them just for the sake of having someone to tell you what you're supposed to do, they might as well be orders. You have to make these decisions for yourself. And my advice will depend entirely on what I observe when we talk together."

"Okay," said Gwen stiffly.

"Do you want to talk about why you needed to be held, just now?" Hanna asked.

Gwen looked down.

"I just--" she said, almost in a whisper. "Once it was dark-- I kept seeing-- things-- the basement-- and before-- and then the guns-- all those men in masks--"

"What?" said Hanna.

"We had to have guns and masks," said Jesse. "The place was surrounded by cops!"

"And you didn't think to tell me," said Hanna, "what the girl you were bringing me for counseling had just been through-- fuck, Jesse, she was shaking like a leaf, she was probably in shock!"

"We know about shock," said Jesse. "We had hot stuff for her to drink in the car and all. Gods, your voice is shrill."

Gwen had finally sat up, and Hanna put a tentative arm around her; she was trembling again.

"It's okay," Hanna said softly. "You're safe now."

Gwen shook her head, but said nothing.

"Well, I'll do my best to change your mind," said Hanna. "Listen, Gwen-- I think I need to talk to Jesse, and figure out exactly what happened, so I can explain it to you. Would that be helpful, do you think?"

Gwen nodded vaguely. "So you're leaving now?"

"Not just yet," said Hanna. "But once Beck and Niel get home from work for the evening, do you think you'd be all right if I left the three of you here? I'll get you a key, so you can lock yourself in your room if you need to, but I promise they won't bother you. They've both been here awhile, and I know them. I know Beck better, but I know both of them well enough to be confident about leaving you alone with them. And I'd be back here before bedtime, so I can spend the night here with you. But if you don't feel comfortable, that's okay-- I'll just stay here."

"I'll be fine," said Gwen, straightening up, not quite shaking off Hanna's arm, but Hanna took the hint and removed it. "Thank you, Ms. Steele."

"Fuck you, Hanna. I put my ass on the front lines--"

"Oh, you love it, don't give me that," said Hanna, now seated at Jesse and Quen's little kitchen table as Jesse dumped spoonfuls of something fantastic-smelling from a sizzling pot onto the plate in front of her. "You'd go in guns blazing every single time, if you could, and to hell with the fallout, to hell with the kids in the crossfire--"

"Hell is what I'm trying to bust them out of," said Jesse.

"You think I don't know that?"

"I know you know it, so I don't know why you've got to clutch your pearls over a little gun-brandishing-- it's not like we shot anyone--"

"Oh, right, you didn't actually kill the kid you were rescuing, or splatter her with anyone's blood, that's just great then, carry on--"

"This is delicious, Jess," said Quen.

"Thanks. Hanna, you're such a fucking priss," said Jesse, as Hanna took a bite; the food was delicious, spicy and flavorful and a bit creamy, with vegetables and nuts and raisins and enough onions that Hanna was surprised Jesse's eyes weren't still streaming. "You sit there in your cute little office with your cute little file folders and bitch me out for traumatizing a kid who's probably been raped every day for the last three years by letting her delicate little eyes rest on a nasty dangerous gun--"

"You're lucky you're such a good cook," said Hanna. "Otherwise I'd be tempted to insert a nasty dangerous gun into your delicate little earhole and--"

"--and then you might actually have to put on some real shoes and run the borders your own damn self and see how easy it is to answer questions nobody's actually asked while you're praying the checkpoint guard is still the one you bribed last time--"

"Was he?"


"Which checkpoint?"

"North of Kindlewood."

"Anything after that that might have traumatized my client?"


"This really is delicious," said Hanna.

Jesse beamed. "Isn't it?"

"No false modesty about you, Jess," said Quen, eating steadily.

"Unlike you," said Jesse, "so I'm going to have to tell Hanna myself that you got--"

"Oh, shut up."

"--top marks in his entire class on his written exams," said Jesse, over Quen's protest. "Next thing is he gets to actually go on the wards and see real patients and practice on them."

"And try not to kill anyone," said Quen. "No, the written exams are the easy part--"

"--if you're a fucking genius."

Quen blushed. "Stop. I just study, is all. Half my classmates don't bother. I work hard."

"I know," said Jesse. "I'm a med school widow. It's no wonder I turn to a life of crime. And criminally good cookery. More, Hanna?"

"Just a little," said Hanna. "I've got to get back to Gwen."


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