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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Dude, the anonymous feedback thing is fascinating. Maybe I should just maintain one of those permanently so people can complain without feeling self-conscious or whatever. (Y'all know you can complain nonymously, right? Or anonymously on my journal? I will not track your IPs or send my henchvamps after you. Scout's honor.)

(Okay okay so I never flew up. Brownie Scout's honor, though!)

Anyway, I have to go get my car inspected. Here is some more fic for you to read. Thank you for all your kind comments on the last story; I'll catch up on replying to them soon.







"I'm not like you and Jess," Hanna tried to explain; she was sitting on Quen and Jesse's couch, her hands folded in her lap, while Quen, his shaggy black hair in his eyes, an enormous medical textbook clasped to him like a child's teddy bear, curled on the other end of the couch. "I didn't fall in love there. I never had any sex that wasn't rape. I've never had sex that wasn't rape," she repeated, stunned, and looked up at Quen. "I've never had sex!"

"I'm sorry," said Quen. "You want to? You and me?"

Hanna stared at him, horrified. "No!"

Quen shrugged, grinning. "Just an offer."

"Would you really?"

"I'd have to make sure it was okay with Jess," said Quen.

"But you're my friend!"

"All the more reason," said Quen. "'A friend in need...'"

"You're crazy." Hanna flopped over and rested her cheek on the arm of the sofa. "Are all ex-slaves crazy?"

"Probably," said Quen. "But we get by. So do you."

"Until now."

"Yeah, what brought this on?" Quen asked curiously. "Did something happen with Gwen?"

"No! Thor thunder-fist, what kind of a monster do you think I am?"

"Um," said Quen mildly. "I really just meant-- anything. Like, did she say something that got to you."

"Oh."

After a minute, Quen set his book aside and motioned her closer. Hanna sat up, then lay back down, with her head in Quen's lap, on his lean thigh; he put his hand on her hair. She'd kept it long, but she always pulled it back into a braid or a bun; it was braided today. Quen stroked the scalp part. Normally she didn't like people to touch her hair, but just now it felt soothing. She thought of Holden Larssen combing it out, carefully, after she'd struggled so hard at night that it was a knotted, tangled mess.

"Larssen never raped me," she said.

"No." Quen kept stroking. "I don't think he'd rape anyone."

"What about Jesse?"

"That wasn't rape," said Quen. "Jess wanted it. You know that. They sort of-- bonded."

"I guess." Hanna sighed. "You don't think Larssen did anything to Gwen, do you? She'd act like she wanted it, too."

"I don't think he had time," said Quen. "Jess said the information was that Larssen left for the hospital about five minutes after he brought Gwen home."

"He could have gotten a blow job in the car."

"I think it was a police car," said Quen. "So you have a crush on Gwen, huh?"

"Fuck off," said Hanna, and then as he touched her cheek gently, "So what if I do."





After the dream, it had been nice to see Gwen clean-faced and properly dressed in her new casual work clothes, sitting ready in the living area of the facility, with her hands clasped on her lap.

"Ready?" Hanna asked pointlessly as Gwen was rising. The way her face lighted up when she saw Hanna made Hanna's heart beat a little too fast; it wasn't obvious, it wasn't even that big a smile, but somehow her blank, waiting face transformed itself and she looked happier than Hanna had seen her yet. Hanna hoped her heart wasn't beating visibly. "Did you eat breakfast?"

"Yes," said Gwen.

"Okay," said Hanna, leading the way towards the door and outside, while resisting the urge to take Gwen's hand in hers. It wouldn't have been horribly inappropriate, but it wouldn't have been a good idea, either. "I'm taking you to the central agency, which is where they'll give you today's work assignment. You'll have a partner-- someone I know, actually, a very nice lady named Faye, she's worked there for a while. She's really good with-- new people. And she has a car, so she'll be in charge of taking you to your morning's work location. Are you comfortable with that?"

"If you know her," said Gwen, who had paused beside the passenger's side door of Hanna's car, as if uncertain whether she should touch the handle.

"Hop in," said Hanna, circling around to her own door. "It's not locked."

Gwen got in, and sat down, arranging herself again with her hands in her lap.

"You'll be back at the agency by noon," Hanna continued as the engine caught, "and that's where I'll pick you up for lunch. If you still want to go."

"Oh, I do," said Gwen quickly. "If you do."

Hanna did want to.







"What is it?" asked Quen. "It can't just be that she's pretty. We're all pretty."

"True." Hanna hesitated. "I don't know what it is, Quen. She's so... she's little, but she's so tough. But not hard. Flexible. What's the word for strong and-- bendable-- there's a word, I'm blanking on it--"

"Tensile," Quen suggested.

"Maybe." Quen was stroking her back now, but it didn't make her uncomfortable; he'd stop if she said anything. It felt pretty good. "I never-- bent. I thought the only way to survive-- to keep being me-- was to never do one single thing they told me to. Was to be so bad that nobody could ever say fucking 'good girl' to me. I hated everybody who ever owned me, but the worst ones were the ones who tried to be nice. Pet me and tell me it was okay-- I didn't want to be okay, not as a slave. Not for them."

"You did a pretty good job," Quen observed.

"Hey," said Hanna. "I was the best. But Gwen-- she did everything they told her to, she was-- I think she was a good slave. But it's like it didn't touch her. Like she had somewhere to go, inside, where they couldn't get to her. She just... played them. To get what she wanted."

"What did she want?"

Hanna shrugged. "I don't know. Food. Not getting beaten. To--" She hesitated. "To live, I guess. To survive."

"And you didn't want that too?"

"I was suicidal," said Hanna. "You knew that."

"So what did you want?"

"To be me," said Hanna. "To stay me. I can't-- I couldn't have done what she did. It's like I can't act, I can't pretend, without it-- corrupting me."

"Is Gwen corrupted?"

"I don't know." Hanna shivered. "No. Is she?"

"I don't know, honey," said Quen.

"Of course you don't." Hanna sighed. "But-- Quen? Does that mean I can't pretend with her, either? That I can't-- that she'll see how I'm feeling about her?"

"Maybe," said Quen. "Would that be so bad?"

"Yes!"

"I guess so," Quen conceded after a moment. "Well. But you can't cut off contact with her."

"I know."

They were quiet for a while. Hanna hoped Quen was considering the problem. She was trying to, but kept getting distracted.







When she'd picked Gwen up for lunch, she hadn't asked where the girl wanted to go; Gwen wasn't yet conversant in the kind of desire-and-opinion tossing back and forth ("I don't know, I'm sort of in the mood for...") that such a conversation should have initiated, so Hanna just said, "This way. You don't mind walking, do you? It's right down the street."

Gwen matched Hanna's brisk stride, probably deliberately. Hanna asked, "Are you tired? How was your morning?"

"I'm a little tired," said Gwen. "I'm not used to this kind of labor. It wasn't difficult, though. I think I'll like this job."

"Good," said Hanna, beaming. "Although you know you can change your mind any time, no problem. The people were nice? You had all the supplies you needed?"

"Yes," said Gwen. "Faye was very nice. As you said. We cleaned a school-- it was closed today. She said a lot of the jobs will be like that until school starts again. In the autumn. And then there will be more work in the evening, and early in the morning, when big buildings are deserted."

"Makes sense," said Hanna.

"How was your morning?" Gwen asked, and at Hanna's surprised look, "I'm sorry-- was that an inappropriate question?"

"No, no, no, not at all," said Hanna quickly. "I just-- my clients don't usually ask me that. You know, because my job is to take care of you, not-- but it's not inappropriate, it's very-- courteous, of you. My morning was fine. Busy-- well, I'm always busy. I keep up with most people, you know-- even after they don't really need me any more, professionally. Sometimes people need tips unexpectedly, and sometimes-- well, some people just like me to see how well they're doing. The person who saw them when they were new, you know, and-- floundering."

"Like me," said Gwen, with enough of a smile that Hanna laughed and said, "I don't think you're floundering."

"Not exactly," said Gwen. "Though you seem to think I might, eventually."

"It's not that," said Hanna. "It's just- I don't want you to feel guilty if you do. Or if you start to feel like that. If all I say is 'oh you're doing so well, oh it's so nice to see how together you are, not like some of these basket cases--' and later you do start to feel like a basket case, then you might feel like you're letting me down. And you won't be. Wouldn't. If it happened."

"I see," said Gwen. "I appreciate that, Hanna."

Hanna smiled. "It's my job."

"You're good at it," said Gwen.

Hanna found herself blushing, and was irritated with herself. "Thank you. Here we are."







"I mean," said Hanna, half muffled against Quen's tunic, "if I'm going to keep blushing every time I'm around her-- or every time she says my damn name--"






"Hanna?"

"Yes?"

"May I order coffee?"

"Order anything you like," said Hanna. "Do you want dessert?"

Gwen shook her head. "No. Thank you."

"Probably smart," said Hanna. "A lot of us are so sugar-deprived that we go nuts once we get the chance. I must have gained thirty pounds in my first few months."

Gwen smiled a little, but not happily.

"My first mistress fed me a lot of sweets," she said. "I was really fat when she sold me. That's one reason why my second mistress starved me."

"You were fat?" Hanna asked. "I can't picture it."

"I didn't like it," said Gwen. "But it's not like you can say no when your mistress has you in her lap and keeps putting stuff in your mouth."

Hanna shuddered a little, partly at the idea and partly at the memory of how her own attempt to refuse all food and starve herself to death had ended. She was making a mental note, too, like a good counselor, that Gwen might have psychological issues with gaining the necessary weight to stop looking like a waif. She hadn't picked at her food at any of the meals Hanna had observed her at, but she hadn't exactly polished her plate, either.

"Dessert?" asked the waitress, pausing by their table.

"Just coffee," said Hanna. "Two, please."

"Cream and sugar?"

"Please," said Hanna. "Gwen? Do you want cream or sugar?"

When Gwen hesitated, she added to the waitress, "On the side, please," and when the waitress had gone, "Have you ever had coffee before?"

"No," said Gwen.

"Then you can sample it black and then add cream and sugar to taste," Hanna advised. "They say black coffee is an acquired taste."

When Gwen took her first sip of black coffee, her eyes went very wide, and she put her cup down very quickly. Hanna laughed.

"Oh, wow," said Gwen, blinking and smiling back at Hanna. "I see what you mean about an acquired taste. People drink this voluntarily?"

"Many people," said Hanna, taking a sip of her own properly doctored coffee, and then offering her cup to Gwen. "Try this."

Gwen sipped from Hanna's cup, then blinked again and handed it back to Hanna. She began spooning sugar into her own coffee, adding three spoonfuls where Hanna had put in one, and then stirred in so much cream that her coffee was ivory-colored by the time she took another sip. She put her cup down again and looked thoughtful.

"I don't know," she said. "It isn't too bad any more, but it only barely tastes like coffee. Maybe I should just drink sugar and cream."

"I'll order you some," said Hanna, making Gwen giggle.

"That's okay," she said. "What time is it?"

"Time to take you back," Hanna agreed, extracting money from her money belt to put on the table next to the check. "You ready?"

Gwen nodded, but waited for Hanna to rise before she followed suit.

"Thank you for lunch," she said, looking up at Hanna with another sweet smile as they headed for the door. "You don't really have to buy me lunch four more times. That was greedy of me to suggest. I know you're busy."

"I don't mind," said Hanna, and then wondered if she should have taken the out when it was offered; this lunch had been a little too pleasant, especially given Hanna's increasing... problem... with Gwen's general...

Hanna didn't like any of the words that leaped to mind: desirability, attractiveness, loveliness. She couldn't hear any of them in her head without a leering emphasis, and a price tag attached.

Call it Hanna's problem, then; Hanna's problem, full stop. It wasn't Gwen's problem, and Hanna wasn't going to make it so.








She and Quen had been quiet for a while when Hanna, following her own train of thought, said, "Quen, when you and Jesse belonged to that guy-- what's his name--"

"We don't say his name," said Quen. "Rumor has it that if you say it three times, he appears in a puff of smoke and does unspeakable things to your pets."

"You don't have any pets."

"That's because we think ahead," said Quen. "What were you going to say about Lord--" He made an elaborate throat-clearing noise.

"Well--" Hanna hesitated. "Did he ever make you-- perform? Put on a show? With someone else?"

"Oh, sure," said Quen. "That's how we met. Jess and me."

Hanna sat up, startled. "Are you serious?"

Quen shrugged, taking the book back into his lap, though he didn't open it. "How did you think we met, over cocktails? He bought me, and then he made me and Jess wrestle. And then the winner was supposed to fuck the loser. Jess fucked me."

Hanna put her hand over her mouth.

"Don't look at me like that," said Quen. "It's not like Jess wanted to. The bastard loved shows like that. If you lost, you were supposed to scream and cry, really act like you were in agony. We had to do it a lot, at first. Although after a while Jess mostly let me win."

"Why?" Hanna managed.

"Because Jess hated it when I cried, even if I was faking," said Quen, "and he got too gentle, and the master could tell. It was better the other way around. I always knew I wasn't really hurting Jess."

Hanna put her hands over her eyes, now; I see no evil, I speak no evil. "How could you stand it?"

"I don't know," said Quen. "What was the alternative?"

"What I did, I guess," said Hanna dully, taking her hand from her eyes. "Or tried to do."

Quen leaned over and touched Hanna's shoulder, and she shuddered again, slightly, and drew away. Quen withdrew his hand.

"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

Hanna shook her head. "I don't know. I feel like they're in my fucking head. All the owners. They wanted me to-- want. To be sexy, to be-- I don't know-- this sexy thing, this needing thing. And I just fucking wouldn't. They made me sick. I'm still sick."

"You're not sick," said Quen. "You're just fucked up about sex. It's not really all that surprising. You were a sex slave."

"But look at you and Jesse," said Hanna. "You were sex slaves too-- you had to rape each other for your master's sick jollies-- and here you are, cozy and kissy as Ask and Embla--"

"But it was different for us," said Quen. "I mean, yeah, we had to perform at first, but after he realized-- we loved each other-- he punished us by keeping us apart. We had to-- steal time. Kisses, and sex when we could-- it was all secret, it was something we were getting away with. And getting punished for, when we got caught. It was something-- just for us. Our own little bit of freedom. Does that make any sense?"

"Yeah," said Hanna. "I guess."

"We still can't fall asleep cuddled up, though," said Quen, a little sadly. "That was-- the worst thing he ever did to us, was for that. When he caught us sleeping in each other's arms. We sleep on opposite sides of the bed, now. Not touching."

"Gods damn it--" Hanna jumped to her feet and started pacing. "They're in your head too!"

"I thought it might be comforting," said Quen, behind her. "Knowing you're not the only one."

"No, it's not comforting! I know I'm not the only one who's fucked up-- look what I do for a living. You're supposed to be the couple who made it out intact and gives me hope, dammit!"

"We can still give you hope," said Quen softly. "But yeah, we've got scars. What do you expect? We've been through the wars."

"I don't want scars from them," said Hanna. "It's like they're still touching me. On me-- in me--"

"Hey," said Quen, an edge of alarm in his voice. "Hanna. Calm down, okay?"

"I'm sorry," said Hanna, and sat down again, clasping her hands in her lap-- like Gwen, she suddenly realized. "Oh, Quen-- I'm sorry. What a shitty thing to say. Of course you and Jesse give me hope. It's-- fucking amazing, what you've been through, and how much you love each other--"

"I know," said Quen, with a half-smile, pushing his hair back out of his eyes. "It's okay."

"It is?"

Quen looked at her for a long time, before he said, "In the end. I think-- yeah. Are you staying for dinner? Jess should be home soon; he had some clandestine meeting to go to."

"I can't," said Hanna; she felt incapable of facing Jesse in her current state. "Say hi for me. Thanks, Quen. For listening."

"Any time," said Quen, reaching out a hand as Hanna rose; she clasped it briefly, hard, before letting go. "I mean it. And, hey."

"Hm?"

"Bring Gwen over sometime," said Quen. "For dinner, or something. If she's up for it. I'd like to meet her."

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maculategiraffe

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