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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Hi guys. Sorry-- real life has exploded lately. Trying to get back in the writing saddle.

After a while, Rita managed to get Kyle to his feet-- he clung to her arm-- and steer him towards the door of her office.  When he saw where she was leading him, he balked, stopping still and resisting her tugs forward.

"Just down the hall," she said.  "I'll stay with you, sweetheart.  I want to get you out of these clothes."

He nodded slowly, and let her lead him down the few yards to her bedroom door, then inside-- she shut the door carefully and, on consideration, locked it-- and then into her bathroom, where she gently unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans and slid them, and his fouled underwear, off his body.  She got his T-shirt off too, and turned the water on in the shower to a pleasant heat, and put him in it; he stood unresisting under the spray, staring at her.

She stripped off her own clothes and stepped into the shower with him, where she gently soaped and washed him all over; he shuddered under her hands, but didn't try to move away. 

Eventually, he knelt on the slippery, wet tile and put his arms around her thighs, pressing his face against her naked, wet belly.  She put her hand on his head, then took the cleansing gel and lathered it in his hair, massaging his scalp gently with both hands.

"I didn't mean it," he said, looking up at her, the water hitting his imploring face as his hands clutched her thighs.  "I don't really--"

"Wish we'd never met?"  She smiled sadly at his flinch.  "It's all right.  You can say it.  I won't lose my temper again."

"But I really didn't mean it," he insisted.  "I-- you're so good to me-- you've always been so good to me--"

"Let's keep it that way," said Rita.  "Let's have good memories of each other."

"Rita--"  He pressed his lips to her stomach.  "Magistra-- please-- one more chance-- I'm so sorry-- just one more chance, please--"

Rita pulled free from his grip and knelt down beside him, under the spray; she reached out and began massaging his back as water sluiced over it.

"Darling," she said softly, "you don't understand. I'm not sending you away as a punishment.  It's because I've realized something about myself, that means it isn't safe for you to stay with me.  I'm trying to give you a chance-- by sending you away. Please don't make it harder than it has to be."

Kyle began shaking with sobs again, and Rita held him for a little while, water cascading over them both, then slid away and turned off the water.  He stayed where he was, and she got a towel and dried him as he knelt there, crying and trembling.  Then she pulled him up, got him out of the shower, and helped him into the bedroom, where she pulled back the covers of her bed for him.  He slid in, and so did she, taking his quivering body in her arms and holding him close.

"It's all right," she said, for what felt like the millionth time.  "Are you warm enough?  Should I get another blanket?"

"I didn't mean it," said Kyle again.  "I was angry.  I-- I'm sorry-- I don't have any right--"

"You have the right," said Rita softly.  "And if you were a woman, we could argue, and you could get angry, and so could I, and I wouldn't have to worry about hurting you."  She smiled a little, and added, "Of course, if you were a woman, we wouldn't be fighting over this particular issue."

"I'm not fighting," Kyle mumbled.

"Not now," said Rita.  "You started to, and I knocked you out with one punch.  For the record, Kyle, you're probably right that I should have told you.  Though you were a bit rude about it."

"I'm sorry," said Kyle miserably. 

"Well, I blasted you with unspeakable pain," said Rita, "so let's call it even."

Kyle was quiet for awhile, and then he said, "Why didn't you tell me?"

Flinching a little herself, Rita thought about it.

"I didn't want to tell anyone," she said finally, trying to keep her voice steady.  "I wanted to forget it myself.  I wanted to just-- wait-- until I got pregnant, and then it wouldn't matter.  I was in denial.  I've been in denial about-- you-- for a long time."

She thought again, and added, "Well, not-- not about you.  About the way I feel about you.  And how dangerous it is.  It's not right.  Especially for a magistra."

"I like the way you feel about me," said Kyle. 

"You like nearly getting burned to a crisp because you said something that hurt my feelings?"

Kyle moved a little, uncertainly, not really shifting closer or further away. "You never did that before."

"Only because I tried hard to hold it back," said Rita.  "I wanted to hurt you when you told me you wanted to be with Drew."

"You did?"

"I was jealous," Rita confirmed.  "I didn't want you to want anyone but me. And I know I had Sean, you don't have to say it. It wasn't fair. That's why I didn't forbid it. Even though I wanted to."

"I don't need to be with Drew," said Kyle very quickly.  "I'll do anything you want.  I'll never make you angry again, I swear."

"Sweetheart," said Rita, "even if that were possible, it wouldn't be a very pleasant way for you to live."

"It would be better than being sent away," Kyle insisted.

"No it wouldn't."  Rita stroked his damp hair.  "You're catastrophizing.  What about Leah?  Wouldn't you like to be under Leah's protection?"

"No," said Kyle against her shoulder.

"Yes you would.  She adores you.  She'd spoil you to death."

"She works for you," Kyle pointed out.  "She practically lives here.  If I lived at her place, I'd see her less than I do now."

"You could convince her to stay home more," Rita suggested.  "And you'd have Drew."

"How do you know Leah even likes Drew?  You think you can just decide--"  Kyle caught his breath and cringed, ducking his head to hide his face from her.  "I'm sorry--"

"It's okay," said Rita.  "You're right.  It was just a thought.  There are plenty of women who'd be lucky to have you."

"But I don't want any other woman," Kyle said, hugging her closer.  "I just want you."

Rita kissed his forehead, and said quietly, "I'm sorry."

Kyle cried out, then, in pure and wordless anguish, and Rita felt as if the sharp cry had pierced her heart; she stiffened and slid out of the bed, hurrying into the bedroom to collect her clothes from the floor and put them on as quickly as she could.

"Rita," Kyle pleaded behind her, but she didn't turn around.

"I'm sorry," she said thickly.  "We'll talk again soon-- but not now.  I'll be in my office.  Don't come after me.  Stay here-- as long as you need to--"

She hurried out, and down the hall, back to her office, where she kicked the door shut behind her and fell to the floor, curled up as Kyle had been when her power hit him, smelling the charred bits of leather and rubber on the carpet.  Kyle would be all right.  Probably he'd go fall into Drew's arms.  That was good.  He'd have someone to comfort him. 

After a while-- Rita had no idea how long-- the door opened, and Rita rolled over in time to see Carol standing there, her eyes huge in a pale little face. 

Rita pulled herself up so quickly her back cracked, into a sitting and then a standing position, where she wobbled a little as she said to Carol in a voice that strove to be both firm and gentle, "We don't knock?"

Carol blinked at her for a few moments, and then said in a small voice, "Aunt Rita?"

"I'm fine," said Rita, and smiled, though the motion felt jerky and unnatural; she hoped she didn't look as ghastly as she felt.  "I was just-- in the middle of something.  What do you need?"

"You have something black on your dress," said Carol, still staring.  "And-- your face."

Rita looked down at herself, and saw that her dress was covered with smutches of soot and ash from the carpet.

"Oops," she said, and brushed at it, though that didn't produce much effect.  "I'll-- I'll go change.  In a minute," she added, since Kyle was probably still in the bedroom.  "What did you want, Carol?"

"Nothing," said Carol.  "I-- nothing.  I'll come back later."

She turned and fled from the room, pushing the door shut behind her.  Rita sank down on her desk chair, then doubled over, her head between her knees, trying to force her mind back into blankness. 

Kyle finally dragged himself out of Rita's bed, dressed in the fresh clothes she kept in her bureau, and stumbled out into the hall.  At the bottom of the stairs, he ran smack into Leah, who stopped him with her hands on his shoulders, staring up at him. 

"Kyle?" she said.  "Honey, what's wrong?"

Kyle couldn't stand her sweet, worried scrutiny; he turned his face away. 

"Please," he said, and she let him go. He swerved and almost ran, back to the men's dorm, not sure whether he hoped Drew would be there or not.

He was. He was sitting on the bed next to Sean, deep in conversation, and they both looked up at Kyle, their expressions slowly shifting, Sean's into simple horror, Drew's into an approximately equal blending of curiosity, resignation, and despair.

Drew was the one to ask, in a voice that matched his face, "What happened?"

Kyle pitched to his knees next to Drew and hid his face-- tearstained, swollen, who knew what else-- against Drew's leg.

"I'm sorry," he said into the denim.  "I'm so so sorry, please, please, you're going to be so mad at me, but please, I'm so sorry, I'm such a fuckup, please--"

"Kyle, what do you mean?"  Drew grabbed his shoulders and pulled them back; Kyle swallowed past a melon-sized lump in his throat and forced himself to meet the worried blue eyes.  "What happened?  What did you do?"

"I--"  Kyle choked.  "I can't-- I can't tell you-- you're going to hate me-- I can't stand it if you hate me, Drew, please--"

Drew stared at him.  "What is it?  Did you tell her I raped you?  Is she going to kill me?"

Kyle shook his head.

"Castrate me?"

Kyle shook his head again.

"Pack me off to a center?"

"No--"  Kyle breathed in-- "but, Drew, she's-- not to a center-- but she said-- another woman-- another protectrix-- someone, someone kind--"

"Oh," said Drew, and went still, his hands heavy on Kyle's shoulders.

"But I might be able to talk her out of it," Kyle added in a rush.  "Because it's not your fault-- I'm the one-- I'm being sent-- released-- but she said you had to go with me-- so I'd still have you-- but I'll talk her out of that part, I'll tell her, you don't deserve--"

"Kyle," said Drew.  "Shut up a second.  Let me get this straight.  The magistra is planning to withdraw her protection from both of us, and find us both a new protectrix?  The same new protectrix?  So we could stay together?  Is that right?"

Kyle nodded.

Drew squinted at him.  "And what problem are you expecting me to have with this?"

Kyle stared, and then Drew was hauling him up, onto the bed, and putting an arm around him.

"I'm sorry, Kyle," he said more gently.  "I know you're upset.  But maybe-- maybe this is for the best."

Hours later-- who knew how many-- Rita was sitting at her desk, staring down at it, all forms of work appearing equally impossible and ridiculous and pointless; she'd already ignored a couple of timid knocks on the door.  She couldn't possibly face Bonnie or Leah like this; luckily, she hadn't scheduled any appointments for today other than the men's center and the clinic. She'd already turned her mirror face down after one glimpse of her own sooty, stricken face.

Someone knocked at her door, more firmly than before; Rita ignored it, but it opened anyway.  Rita looked up; it was Emily.

"What are you--" she managed, and trailed off as Emily came and stood next to her, putting her arms around Rita and pulling her close. 

As if she'd merely been waiting for the signal, Rita immediately started to sob hysterically, full-force tears spattering Emily's red dress.  She couldn't remember the last time she'd done that.  It felt horrible, choking and wet, and her power didn't like it either; it surged and roiled uneasily, searching for a target, but there was no one there to hurt, no one but Emily, and Emily was safe.  Emily stroked Rita's hair, then groped for her hand and squeezed it.

"Carol called me at the center," she said eventually.  "You gave her a fright.  What happened, baby?"

Between sobs, Rita choked out the whole story, more or less coherently.  Emily rubbed her back and head gently, and didn't interrupt.

"Rita," she said softly, when Rita had finished.  "It's all right, honey.  You didn't kill him.  You didn't lose control."

"I did," Rita sobbed.  "I hurt him-- I--"

"Only for a second, though.  No lasting damage.  He just got a scare.  And that's not a bad thing, Rita.  He should be more scared of women.  It's healthy to be scared of danger."

"I didn't want to be a danger to him," Rita protested. 

"But you are," said Emily compassionately, her fingers in Rita's hair again.  "Or your power is-- and it's part of you.  The only way to keep them safe is to keep them at a distance."

"That can't be!"  Rita lifted her head, shaking off Emily's hand.  There were black, wet smudges on Emily's dress; they must have rubbed off Rita's face.  "Or why do I-- want-- why do I-- love him?"

"There's something wrong with us," said Emily, sounding sad, but not at all surprised.  "The women of our family.  I've got a theory, that maybe the stronger our powers, the more, well, drawn we are, to men.  Look at Viviane."

"What about you?"

Emily shook her head. "I'm not as powerful as either of you.  But I have-- tendencies-- in that direction.  I just keep them under control.  Why do you think it makes me so uncomfortable to watch Kyle cuddle up to you?  Don't you think I'd like to be able to--"

She stopped, exhaled, and said, "Never mind.  The important thing is, you understand now.  What can happen, if you're not careful.  You'll be more careful with Sean."

"I can't take his maidenhead," Rita said suddenly, realizing. 

Emily patted her back soothingly, as if she were a colicky Adele.  "Why not?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"No," said Emily firmly.  "You're not in love with Sean, are you?"

"Not yet," said Rita darkly, and Emily laughed a little. 

"You'll be careful with Sean," she said again.  "And you'll send Kyle away."

"Yes," said Rita dully, putting her head back down against Emily's stomach.  "Do you know any nice women who can afford to keep two new men?"

"Two?"  Emily asked.

"I thought I'd send Drew with him."

"Ah," said Emily.  "I suppose that makes sense.  Well--"  She considered.  "I'm looking for more male guards over at the center."

"That's not funny," said Rita, her cheek still pressed comfortably against the silk of her sister's dress.

"I'm not joking," said Emily. "It's a perfectly good job.  Or it will be, as soon as I've finished sorting out all the mess.  I've hired several women already, but for the bulk of the guards, I need halfway competent men." 

Rita lifted her head again and examined Emily's face; she appeared to be in earnest. "You really think Kyle's cut out for that kind of work?"

"Actually, yes," said Emily. "From what I know about him, I think it would suit him very well. I don't know Drew as well, but he's-- well, he's big, and that always impresses men, doesn't it?"

"Kyle isn't very big," Rita pointed out.

Emily shrugged. "I've taken a look at the official job description, and I can't find the words 'hulking' or 'looming' in it anywhere."

"You're serious." Rita blinked. "Emily, who'd be their protectrix? Martha?"

"Heavens, no," said Emily.  "I would."
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