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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Long chapter. Sets up for some future, uh, stuff.

Sean held out his hand for the bracelet almost eagerly, Kyle casually, but when it was Drew's turn, his heart beat faster as he offered her his arm. She clasped the bracelet carefully around his wrist, then patted his arm before he withdrew it; he looked up at her, startled, and she smiled at him.

In the car, Kyle sat in the middle of the back seat, with Sean and Drew on either side of him; he sat up very straight, not leaning in either direction, with his hands together in his lap. Drew sat the same way; Sean watched everything with obvious interest, including the two men beside him, the view out the window, and the back of Leah's head.

Rita left Sean and Leah in the car as she walked Drew and Kyle into the men's clinic; the bracelets would have kept them out of trouble, but she wanted to order the tests herself, to make sure nothing was overlooked.

"Any sexually transmittable disease," she told the man behind the reception desk. "Blood tests, urine samples, whatever you do. How long will it take to get the results?"

"Couple of hours, magistra," the man answered deferentially. "Maybe more-- depends on how busy we are. Unless-- should I request priority for your tests, magistra?"

"That won't be necessary," said Rita, and turned to Kyle and Drew. "If I'm not back by the time you're done, you may wander around outside-- get yourselves something to eat, if you like. Here." She reached into her bag and handed Kyle a few bills. "I'll come find you when I'm done at the center, and then we'll go pick up Sean."

"Thank you," said Kyle, and Drew echoed it, tentatively.

"You're welcome." She smiled at both of them, and then went back out to the car, where Sean had his face pressed up against the glass of the window, waiting.

"Sean!" Julia's face lighted up with happiness, and she threw her arms around him. Sean hugged her back fiercely. Then he saw the man in the doorway, whose heart was beating so hard it had alerted Rita to his presence right away.

"Len!" said Sean, and when his mother released him, ran to the other man, who hugged him even harder than Julia had, and whispered something Rita couldn't hear.

"I'm okay," said Sean. "It's okay, Len, I finally got a protectrix--"

He turned, then, pulling out of Len's arms, suddenly uneasy, but relaxed at the sight of Rita's smile.

"Magistra," he said, "this is my father."

Len bowed deeply as Sean added, "This is my protectrix."

"I'm pleased to meet you," said Rita. "Sean, if you'd like to go out anywhere with your parents, you have my permission. If you're not here when I'm ready to pick you up, I'll find you by your bracelet."

"Yes, magistra," said Sean happily. "Thank you, magistra."

"You're very welcome, dear," said Rita. "I hope you enjoy yourself."

At the center, Martha let them in again, looking terrible; her hair was straggly and flattened in places, as if she'd slept and awakened without combing it out, and the harried look in her eyes was even worse than yesterday. Rita didn't ask her any questions; she waited until they'd gotten to the office, where Emily was seated at Martha's desk, talking to the mirror, with Adele beatifically cradled in one arm. Jack knelt beside Emily's chair, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.

"How soon can you be here?" Emily asked the mirror. "Wonderful. Yes, I'm here all day. Just come into the office. Lovely. Looking forward to it. See you then."

She set the mirror down and looked up at Rita, Leah, and Martha.

"Martha," she said, "you're tired. You should go put your feet up. Have a cup of tea. Maybe take a bath. I'm here to take the load off your shoulders."

"Well," said Martha, and disappeared with almost unseemly speed.

"Poor Martha," said Rita, coming in and drawing up a chair for Leah, then one for herself, in front of the desk. "Who was that on the mirror?"

"Interviews for qualified female employees," Emily said. "They'll be coming in all day. We'll see how soon some of them can start-- if they really are qualified, of course. Did you bring the clothes?"

"They're Drew's size," said Rita, as Leah unpacked a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of underwear from her shoulder bag and handed them to Emily across the desk. "I hope they fit."

"You're so cute," said Emily. "You even remembered underwear." She eyed Jack, still kneeling quietly without raising his eyes, then handed him the T-shirt and jeans. "Try these on for size, muscle man."

Jack rose awkwardly to his feet and stepped out of the boxer shorts he was wearing, then, as quickly as possible, into the new ones, while Emily and Adele watched with interest. He pulled on the jeans, sucking in his stomach to button and zip them, then pulled the T-shirt over his head.

"A little tight," said Emily, "but that's all right. Shows off your physique. Kneel down."

"Thank you," said Jack softly, as he obeyed.

"Thank the magistra," said Emily. "She brought them for you. I've been too busy to bother. You're just lucky you remembered to wear underwear yesterday, under that uniform we confiscated."

"Thank you, magistra," said Jack.

"You're welcome," said Rita. "So things are going well?"

"Reasonably," said Emily. "I discovered that the men have been having to cook, and they don't know how to cook, and whichever ones were in charge of the kitchen on any given day were gobbling all the raw ingredients before they could be cooked anyway. I'm looking to hire some kitchen staff-- at least a couple of women, and maybe a few men until we can teach these poor idiots the difference between a dick and a carrot. And the food budget is barely enough to keep them alive anyway, so I'm shuffling money around-- a pack of men is bad enough, but a pack of starving men is worse than a pack of hyenas. It's no wonder they were turning on each other. I'm also hiring female guards, and explaining to the male guards we've already got that rape and violence are, in fact, punishable offenses. And we'll have to standardize the punishments-- as far as I can tell, up until now they've been completely arbitrary. You could get away with murder, but if the guard didn't like the look on your face then you went without dinner. Female guards will help with the accountability there. We'll be setting up a complaint system, too, in case the inmates have a charge to bring against some particular guard or fellow prisoner, but that's for when we have an actual staff-- I can't be bothered with it right now. I've suspended all punishments for the moment-- the guards are supposed to bring any urgent discipline cases directly to me."

Rita couldn't help grinning. "And have they been?"

"Well, one," said Emily. "Seems one of the inmates had gotten mouthy with one of the guards. But when the guard saw Jack here kneeling in his skivvies, he got this funny look on his face, and after that he didn't have a lot to say. I slapped the other man on the wrist and let them both go. I think Jack's demotion has lowered morale quite a bit among the guards, which is a good thing if you ask me. Those guards had too damn much morale in the first place. Morale shouldn't be encouraged too much among men. You've got the same problem in your household."

"Well," said Rita, reminded suddenly of the fact that Emily still hadn't said anything to her about seeing Drew and Kyle kiss, but pushing the irrelevant thought from her mind. "What can I do for you?"

"Talk to these people," said Emily, pushing a piece of paper with a neatly written and bullet-pointed list on it. "They want to argue with me about funding, but I think they'll soften up for a magistra. Logic doesn't work on any of them. The ones with stars next to their names are the ones you should try giving the sob story about inhumane conditions and how men are people too. The other ones, you should probably just bully."

"Noted," said Rita. "What else?"

Emily reflected a moment. "If you could manage to get Martha fired, that would be nice."

"Not my jurisdiction," said Rita, "but she doesn't seem to be giving you too much trouble."

"Well, no," said Emily. "Did you think she would?"

Rita grinned. "Not for a minute."

"She's so ineffectual, though," said Emily. "It irritates me just knowing she's around. And getting paid. Oh well-- all in good time."

"As you say," said Rita. "Well-- it looks like you've got things in hand, Emily."

"I do, thank you," said Emily, just as Adele began to whimper. "Oh-- I think she's wet again. Leah, would you mind?"

"Of course," said Leah, who adored Adele; she got up and stepped past Jack, reaching for the baby. Jack lowered his head even further as Adele changed hands.

"There's a hamper in the bathroom off the waiting room, for her dirty diapers," said Emily. "Fresh ones in the bag over the sink. Thank you, dear."

"Do you want me to take Adele back with me?" Rita asked, as Leah shifted the baby to her hip and walked out. "I could take care of her until you're done here."

"That's all right," said Emily. "I don't like being away from her. And I don't know how long all this mess is going to take to straighten out. Speaking of daughters-- any progress on the baby front, for you?"

"I haven't even taken Sean's maidenhead yet," Rita pointed out. "I'm giving him two weeks, remember?"

"Oh," said Emily. "I thought you might have changed your mind about that."


"Well, you two seemed to be getting very close," said Emily. "After you let him see his mother."

"How do you know that?" Rita asked suspiciously.

"I keep tabs on your emotional bonds," said Emily. "I've got a system. I brought my equipment with me. Don't look at me like that. You're my baby sister. I want you to be happy."

"And you've got a system for everything," said Rita resignedly. "All right, Emily, keep all the tabs you like-- but I'm still giving Sean some time. We are getting to know each other better, but I don't want to rush him. He had a very traumatic experience last time."

"Morale-building again," said Emily. "It's really overrated, you know. Can I offer you a cup of tea?"

"No, thank you," said Rita, smiling. "I need to go pick up my men."

"Len, you can't blame her," said Sean. "She would have kept me with her if she could-- with both of you-- you know that."

They were sitting in the kitchen, where they'd always talked when Sean lived at home; Julia had gone off somewhere and left them alone, half to Sean's regret, but only half. He'd missed talking to his father like this, and his father looked so tired and dispirited-- he'd lost weight, and his hair was grayer-- that Sean had blurted out his words almost before they'd properly sat down.

"I know," said his father. "I don't blame her. It's not that. I just-- when you were gone-- it got to me. I never sired a daughter. You're my only child, Sean. And to have you taken from me-- I felt as if I'd lost everything. I couldn't see what anything was worth, if my boy could just-- go, like that. I couldn't talk to your mother, I could hardly look at her-- some days I couldn't even get my work done, I just sat, or stayed in bed all day. Your mother was kind-- she didn't punish me, or-- I guess most women would have released me, eventually. But I couldn't even tell her I was grateful-- for not being sent to a center-- because that was where you were, in a center. If I could have gone to one in your place, and let you come home--"

"It's okay," said Sean, squeezing his father's hand. "I'm not in one any more. I'm fine."

Len nodded, once, and then grabbed Sean and pulled him close again. Sean put his arms around his father and patted his back gently.

"Len," he said. "I might-- I hope-- I'm going to be a father, too. I might have a son-- or a daughter."

"I hope you have a daughter," said Len, pulling away. "You don't have to worry about a daughter."

"Do you wish you'd had a daughter?" Sean asked. "Instead of me?"

Len smiled, a little.

"No," he said. "I just wish you didn't have to worry about a son, either."

"Well, you don't have to worry about me any more," said Sean, hoping as he spoke that he was right. "I'm going to be okay. She's-- the magistra-- she's kind. Like my mother."

"Your mother has been kind," said Len again, as if realizing it for the first time.

"She loves you," said Sean. "She wants you to be okay."

"I know," said Len. "I got-- so lucky, Sean. For a man. With your mother. I hope you're as lucky as I am, with your protectrix."

"I am," said Sean eagerly. "She's-- listen, Len, you can't tell my mother about this if I tell you, okay?"

Len grinned, then, a more familiar grin. "You know I can keep a secret."

"I know," said Sean, grinning back, as he remembered certain childhood secrets that had stayed securely "just between us men," and then sobering. "This is a big secret, though. My mother-- she thinks-- I've been really good, for the magistra. But I-- I fucked up. She was going to take my maidenhead-- she had the ritual all set up-- I was inside the circle-- and I-- I panicked. I stepped out of the circle. Away from her."

"Sean!" Len sounded so upset that Sean immediately wished he hadn't told him.

"But it's okay," he rushed on. "She forgave me. She didn't even hurt me. She's going to give me more time-- she said-- she said, listen, she said it was partly her fault, because she rushed me into it, before I had a chance to learn to trust her. And she's being so good to me-- and she didn't tell my mother about the ritual, she just said I'd been really good-- Len, I'm lucky, okay? That's what I wanted you to know-- that I got lucky-- just like you did. That she's-- that kind of woman. The magistra. She forgives."

"Good," said Len after a moment. "I'm glad, Sean. So you're still a maiden?"

Sean nodded. "She said we'd do the ritual again in two weeks. And I'm going to do it right this time." He hesitated for a moment, then added, "Len, when you-- when my mother took your maidenhead-- was it-- did it scare you?"

"Well," said Len slowly. "Not too badly. I knew your mother. And I knew other boys who'd-- who weren't maidens any more, and they'd said it wasn't bad. But-- well, if she had it set up, then you know-- there's a knife involved."

"Right!" Sean nearly shouted with relief that his father had actually said the words out loud. "Len, it scared me half to death, she had this fucking knife in one hand and--"

"Shhh!" Len looked around guiltily. "We shouldn't be talking about it, kiddo-- you know that-- but, well, yes. It's okay, though, Sean. It's just one of the things they use, the knife, like a wand or a cup, or a mirror. You know that-- you've seen your mother's work equipment."

"Yeah," said Sean. "I just-- why can't they tell us ahead of time? Or why couldn't you tell me? I wouldn't have panicked if I'd known what to expect, you know?"

"That's why they do it inside a circle," said Len. "So everybody doesn't go around talking about it. I don't know. Maybe they think the story would get exaggerated and men would go around terrified of losing their maidenheads. This way, once you see the knife, it's already almost over."

"It is?"

"Well, the scary part is," said Len. "And now I'm not going to talk about it any more."

Sean nodded resignedly. "Okay. Thanks, Len."

"Sean--" Len's brow was furrowed; he looked up, resolved. "I've got some fatherly advice for you, kiddo. You want it?"

"Of course," said Sean.

"Tell her you're ready now," said Len. "If you're ready now. Are you?"

"Well," said Sean. "Yes. I mean, I think so. If you say it doesn't hurt-- and my mother said it too, when I asked her. And Rita-- I mean, the magistra-- I really want to stay with her. So even if it did hurt, I think-- yeah. I think I'm ready."

"Tell her that," said his father. "Tell her-- you want her to take your maidenhead. That you trust her, that you want to stay with her. I told your mother that-- and, well, your mother's no magistra-- but out of all the men I know, I think I'm the luckiest. Unless you get luckier. Tell her you're ready."

"Instead of waiting the two weeks?" Sean asked uncertainly. The idea made him nervous, but on the other hand, the sooner he could lose his maidenhead, the sooner he might be able to sire a child on Rita, and then his position with her really would be secure. Even if he sired a son, the proof would be there that he was fertile, and he'd probably be allowed to keep trying for a daughter. And if it were a daughter--

"Yes." Len put his hand over Sean's, and Sean gripped it tightly. "Tell her that you're ready. After that-- she can decide what to do. But you, you need to be ready."

"Okay," said Sean. "Yeah."

"Hey," said the man in the next seat over, a young man about their own age, as Drew and Kyle settled down in the waiting room of the clinic. "What are you in for?"

Kyle smiled at him. "STD testing."

"Ouch," said the man, wincing sympathetically. He was fairly good-looking, with eyes that were a grayer, dimmer blue than Drew's, and fairish hair framing a sharpish face.

"It's okay," said Kyle. "Just a precaution." He hesitated for a moment, and then asked, "You?"

"Fertility," said the man. "I'm being considered as a stud, so they're checking my sperm count and motility." He cupped his own testicles and added, "Come on, boys."

Kyle was startled. "They can do that?"

"Uh, yeah," said the man. "If they're going to take you on as a stud, they're going to check your swimmers out first, to make sure you're not a waste of time. You think they pick potential fathers just for their looks and their great personality?"

Kyle, who had spent two years as a stud under that very impression, turned to Drew. "Did you know that?"

"No," said Drew. "I've never been considered as a stud." He didn't add the obvious: that Kyle should have known, considering his own experience. But he hadn't. Rita had never even mentioned the possibility to him. He'd just assumed it was something that got discovered over time-- whether you could father a child. Or not.

"So what's the STD testing for?" the man asked, obviously now under the impression that neither Drew nor Kyle could be a potential father.

Kyle felt himself blush a little. "Um--"

"To make sure I don't get him sick," said Drew.

The man raised his eyebrows. "Your protectrix must be pretty-- protective."

"She is," said Drew. "Of him, anyway."

"She should get your sperm tested," said the man to Kyle. "Then you could stud for her, instead of-- not that this guy isn't really nice, I'm sure."

"Franklin Dorasman," said the male orderly from the doorway.

"That's me," said the man, and stood up. "Nice to meet you guys."

Kyle nodded. "You too."

When Franklin was gone, Kyle looked at Drew. "That's weird."

"She never had your sperm tested?" Drew asked.

"Not that she told me," said Kyle. "And if she had, it seems like she would have broken things off with me a lot earlier. Unless--"

"Unless your sperm's okay," Drew agreed in a low voice.

"And it's her who can't--"

"Shhh," said Drew.

"I know." Kyle stared down at his hands. "Should I-- do you think I should-- ask her?"

"No," said Drew, immediately and definitely. "If she wanted you to know, she'd have told you."

"I guess," said Kyle. "Well. Anyway. If we get done in here early, what do you want to go do?"

"Food sounds good," said Drew. "I can't remember the last time I ate a meal outside the house. How much money did she give you?"

Kyle pulled the bills out of his jeans pocket and looked. "A lot."

"She's really good to you," said Drew, and it was both a reassurance and a warning.

"I know," said Kyle, and it was an acknowledgement, but not much more.


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