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LAST CHAPTER SUCKAZ

(well, until the sequel, coming soon to a livejournal near you)

(also don't miss Chapter 27 and The Interlude I just posted yesterday)








“I should explain about the scars,” said Rita, when the man’s voice and the faint echo of the recording had ceased.

Sean looked up at her, sitting cross-legged across the circle from him, on the other side of the silver bowl of dark liquid whose surface shivered with the light of the five candles she had placed around it in upright silver holders.  He felt dazed, still caught by the story, and indignant as a child at its premature ending, even though he knew the real ending of the story couldn't be a happy one, for either Viviane or Michael. Nick couldn't be right, though, about what he thought had happened between them. Could he?

“When I was very small,” said Rita, her eyes on the wavering lights in the bowl, “just a baby, my sister Viviane achieved menarche in the middle of the night, in her sleep, and accidentally started a fire.  It burned our house nearly to the ground before the neighbors could extinguish it.  My mother died in the fire, as did my father.  I suppose they were drugged asleep by the smoke, and that’s why my mother wasn’t able to fight the fire herself.  Viviane wasn’t able to use any powers either, since she’d had no training, but she got me and Emily out safely-- Emily was about four years old.  Then Viviane ran back in to try to find our parents, and she must have fainted, from the smoke and the heat, and perhaps the pain of menarche.  The neighbors were able to get her out and save her life, but she was badly burned.  I think-- Michael-- is right, that she was self-conscious about her appearance, because of the scars.  They covered-- part of her face.  And one side of her body.  She was a very beautiful woman, in any case, he’s right about that, but she may not have thought so herself.  And of course she felt guilty all her life about the fire, though everyone told her it was nothing but an extremely unlucky accident.”

“That’s really sad,” Sean said.  

“For Viviane, yes,” Rita answered, still not looking up at him.  “And perhaps for Emily.  I was too young to remember my parents, myself.  And my parents are safely one with Gaia, now, so it isn’t sad for them.  The three of us-- their daughters-- went to live with our grandmother, who was very good to us.  And Viviane mothered us too, a bit.  Emily and me. Being older.”

She seemed lost in memory; Sean waited a while before he ventured, nodding at the bowl, “Is there-- more?”

“What you just heard is all I have of Michael’s account,” said Rita, her eyes still fixed on the bowl.  “Emily says they weren’t able to do another recording, because the same night this was made, Michael died by his own hand.”

“Oh, no!”  

“I know,” said Rita, finally lifting her eyes to Sean’s face, in response to his involuntary cry of dismay.  “It saddens me too-- I liked Michael, the little I knew him.  I suppose Emily gave me what she did of the recording because she wanted me to know they really were happy, for a while.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I shouldn’t have heard any more of what he had to say.  You see, the rest of the story is the-- well, the difficult part.”

Sean looked at her, waiting.  Rita cleared her throat and looked at the carpet.

“Apparently Viviane eventually took another man under her protection,” she said, “a boy even younger than Michael, to help around the house and the grounds.  His name was Jonathan.  If I’m not mistaken, he was also the son of one of Viviane’s friends, though she hadn’t been as close to him as Michael, and to my knowledge Jonathan never shared her bed.  But at some point, Viviane came home and found Michael and Jonathan engaged in, well, I don’t know exactly what.  Sexual intimacy.  Of some kind.”

“Oh, no,” Sean gasped again, horrified.

“Viviane must have been extremely shocked,” said Rita steadily, ignoring the interruption.  “Ordinarily her control was stellar, but it wasn’t sufficient on this occasion.  And her power was very strong.  She killed Jonathan from the doorway.  Michael was hurt, but not seriously harmed-- but Jonathan died, rather horribly. In his arms.”

Sean’s stomach turned over; he put a hand to his mouth and swallowed.

“I don’t believe Viviane meant to kill anyone,” Rita said, in a tone so carefully controlled it sounded severe.  “Even if that was her momentary intention, her guilt afterwards was-- unbearable.  Apparently.  She decided--”  Rita stopped, and blinked twice, deliberately, as if signalling, before she continued.  “She wrote a note asking that Emily and I look after Carol, which is a responsibility we’ve done our best to share.  She also asked, in the note, that Emily might protect Michael.  And that neither of us might blame Michael for her suicide.  I’ve-- done my best-- to comply with her wishes. I think Emily has, too. I hope so.”









“So... when Drew and I--” Kyle began, trembling a little, as Emily’s eyes seemed to bore into him.

“Indeed,” she said coolly.  “I lost one sister to her emotional overinvestment in a stud male who betrayed her with another man.  I had no wish to lose another to the same calamity.  Fortunately, Rita either has better control than Viviane, or loved you less than Viviane loved Michael.”

“I didn’t betray her,” said Kyle, knowing the last thing he should be doing was contradicting Emily at this particular moment, but unable to let the false accusation stand.  “I asked her permission.  I didn’t do anything like-- what Michael did.  I wasn’t even her stud any more.  When I asked.”

“Granted,” said Emily.  “However, she still had an unhealthy attachment to you, and you and Drew had obviously had feelings for each other for some time, of which she’d been unaware.  It must have been a severe shock to her.  And you didn’t help by picking a fight with her later.  In any case, she managed not to kill you-- or Drew-- and she was wise enough, in the event, to dismiss both of you from her service.”

“Why did you take us?” Kyle asked; it seemed like a safer form of the question burning on his lips: What did you do to Michael?

"I took you," Emily answered evenly, "because I thought I could make good use of you. And I hope I need not remind you that you chose my protection. Are you regretting that choice?"

Kyle didn't answer. Emily narrowed her eyes at him, and he narrowed his eyes back for a split second before thinking better of it. He was sure she'd seen it, but she didn't react. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak.

"Why did you tell me all this?" he asked eventually. "About Michael?" Was it a warning?

Emily, too, was silent for a while before she said, "I realize I have a reputation as a man-hater. Not only among men-- among women as well, though you wouldn't necessarily know that.  I am generally supposed to be angry at men, and suspicious of them, because I blame a man for my sister’s death.  That is a misconception.  I have no particular rancor towards your sex.  I do, however, find it advisable to keep a certain emotional and physical distance."

She paused, as if to give Kyle the opportunity to react, but when he didn't say anything, she continued, "Rita showed you great affection, and even, I think, passion.   I do not, and I will not, indulge in affection or passion towards men.  As your protectrix, I will offer you-- and Drew-- fairness, consistency, appropriate guidance, and the opportunity to lead a productive life.  Considering your past, I thought it might aid your transition from Rita’s style of protection to mine if you understood what terrible consequences can ensue, for both men and women, when appropriate distance is not maintained.”

Kyle considered this.

"Okay," he said finally.

"Okay?" Emily repeated.

"Okay," said Kyle, "I don't regret choosing your protection."

An expression that would have been plausibly deniable as a smile flickered for an instant across Emily's face, then vanished.

"I'm pleased to hear it," she said. "And since that's settled-- you have work to do."







“Emily thought--” said Rita, and took a deep breath.  “Emily’s decision, after Viviane’s death-- and Michael’s-- was that women aren’t meant to love men.  That it’s too dangerous, to feel so strongly towards people it’s so easy to hurt.  I thought-- she was wrong.  I thought, if I truly love Kyle, wisely and without self-deception-- if I listen, if I understand, if I’m generous and accepting and I don’t begrudge him his happiness--”  She breathed in again, slowly, then out.  “I thought it would be all right.”

“Isn’t it?” Sean asked softly.  “Kyle’s-- safe-- isn’t he?”

It wasn’t entirely a rhetorical question-- after all, Michael, too, had been transferred to Emily’s protection, and had died there-- but Rita answered, quickly, “Yes.  He’s safe.  Now.  Away from me.”  She smiled, not very convincingly, at Sean.  “It’s you I’m worried about.”

“Me?”  

“I’ve prayed for guidance,” Rita said quietly, her eyes steady on Sean’s face. “I’ve asked the goddess whether it is truly her will that I should-- well, that I should follow my sister’s example.  Emily’s, I mean.  Whether Kyle-- what happened with him-- was meant as a lesson to me, that I should-- keep you at a distance, as Emily keeps her men.  I’ve offered to do so, if it’s truly the goddess’ will.  But I don’t-- I can’t feel that it is.  That my holy mother wants me to-- harden my heart.  Against-- well, against you, Sean.”  She reached out and touched Sean’s head, gently, smoothing the bristles of his cropped hair.  “The man I’ve chosen to take to my bed.  A man who’s suffered so much already, and whose mother prays that I’ll care for him as tenderly as she did, and that he’ll bring me as much joy as he brought her.  If the goddess wants my heart hardened, then-- why did she give me you?”

She brushed her hand across Sean’s lips, and he kissed her fingertips before they retreated.  She laughed a little, surprised.  

“My mother told me once,” Sean began, watching her carefully for signs of displeasure that he’d spoken up unbidden, “that-- well, we, we men, serve the goddess through our service to women, and women serve the goddess herself.  Directly.  But my mother said that just as I had a different mother from-- my friends-- and she required different things from me, and gave me different privileges, than other mothers-- that, just, in the same way, the goddess asked different things of some women than, than others.  She said, even though there’s one goddess all women serve, that just like how all boys have different mothers, the goddess is a different holy mother to every woman.  I don’t-- I don’t know if that’s right, um, theologically.  But that’s what she said.”  

Rita stared at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said nervously, after a few moments of silence.  “I shouldn’t-- that was presumptuous, magistra, I shouldn’t have--”

“No,” she said, and took his hand in hers.  “No, no, it wasn’t presumptuous.  You may always speak to me of your mother, dear.  I think she’s a very wise woman.  And you are a very wise man, to have listened to her so carefully, and remembered so well what she said.  So-- perhaps my holy mother asks different things of me than she does of Emily.  And perhaps I didn’t make such a terrible mistake.  Perhaps the goddess just wanted me to give Kyle up, so she could show herself to him through Emily instead.  Because I wasn’t the right protectrix, for Kyle.”

“I think you’re the right protectrix for me, though,” said Sean shyly, and Rita smiled at him.

“I hope so,” she answered.  

She stood up and held out her hands to pull Sean to his feet, then kicked the line of salt and led him from the circle, but didn’t let go of his hands.

“All right,” she said, still smiling.  ”Now.  Come to the bedroom, dear.  I want you to make me a mother.”
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