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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Thank you very much to everyone who commented on the new chapter of Intake Counselor. :) What can I say, I'm here to write slavefic and explore psychosocial dynamics, and I'm all out of slavery.

gonna make a mistake
gonna do it on purpose
gonna waste my time

cause I'm full as a tick
and I'm scratching at the surface
and what I find is mine

and when the day is done,
and I look back, the fact is
I have fun fumbling around

all the advice I shunned
and I ran where they told me not to run
but I sure had fun

I'm gonna fuck it up again
gonna do another detour
unpave my path

and if you wanna make sense
whatcha looking at me for
I'm no good at math

and when I find my way
back, the fact is I
just may stay, or I may not

I've acquired quite a taste
for a well-made mistake
I wanna make a mistake
why can't I make a mistake?

I'm always doing what I think I should
always doing everybody good

and do I wanna do right? of course
but do I really wanna feel? I'm forced
to answer, you have no i--
I've acquired quite a taste
for a well-made mistake
I wanna make a mistake
why can't I make a mistake

I'm always doing what I think I should
always doing everybody good

And here's the song for this one.

After Emily’s speech at breakfast, the men seemed quiet and chastened, their conversation infrequent and in undertones, with curious glances at Kyle in particular. Kyle managed the business of getting breakfast cleared away and the more-or-less normal business of the center resumed-- men here and there, talking or sitting quietly-- and, as soon as he could, pulled Drew aside.

“Are you okay?” he asked, one eye on the central room. “Did she--”

“I’m fine,” Drew snapped, and Kyle blinked, surprised and hurt by the harshness of Drew’s tone. Drew said again, more gently, “I’m fine, okay? You don’t need to worry.”

“She didn’t--”

“She didn’t hurt me,” said Drew. “But if she had, I’d still be fine. She’s my protectrix. Don’t try to protect me from her. That’s not how this works.”

“What isn’t?” Kyle asked, confused. “I mean, how what works?”

“Us,” said Drew. “With you trying to be my-- my protector. That’s not how we-- us being together--” He took a breath. “It makes me feel like-- like you’re trying to be the woman here or something. When you storm in all ‘my man’s been attacked’ and try to-- to protect me. Like I’m under your protection. I’m not. I’m under Emily’s.”

“I know that,” said Kyle, feeling as if he should apologize to appease Drew-- Drew being angry with him was upsetting, especially now that his whatever-it-was with Drew was all the stability he had left-- but also feeling, and more strongly, that Drew wasn’t making sense. “But it’s my fault you’re-- here. If you get hurt--”

“Hey,” said Drew gently, stepping a little closer, as if to reach out and touch Kyle, although he didn’t. “Nothing’s your fault. I’m here because Rita withdrew her protection from me, and Emily offered me hers.”

“Because of me,” Kyle insisted.

Drew shook his head. “Because Emily thought she could use me along with you. Don’t act like you’re in control here, baby. You’re not. You’re a man, just like me. Your life’s going to get a lot easier once you accept that.”

“I accept that I’m a man,” said Kyle, relieved by the endearment and Drew’s tone, but still feeling driven to argue the actual point. “I just don’t think-- I still have some-- choices.”

“Sure you do,” said Drew soothingly. “That’s why I’m asking you to choose to stop acting like a girl.”

Kyle sighed. “Fine. Sorry I tried to protect you.”

“I forgive you,” said Drew gravely. “I mean, it’s sweet. And you’ve spent so much time around Rita, and the way she was with you, I guess it’s natural that you’ve picked up some ideas about-- well, protection, and-- relationships. But you can’t protect me. You’re not a woman.” He smiled, finally, as he added, “And I wouldn’t want you to be.”

“Yeah,” said Kyle, relieved by the smile; he wanted to touch Drew, to feel that reassurance too, but he felt too shy in front of the men, some of whom were watching them. “I don’t want to be a woman either. I mean, I’m not trying to be.”

“Then don’t try to take care of me,” said Drew. “That’s not your job. It’s Emily’s. Yours is to run this center.”

Kyle frowned. “I think that’s hers too.”

“Right,” said Drew. “Yours is to help.”

“Then can’t I help her take care of you, too?”

Drew laughed. “You’re like a little kid, the way you argue. She hasn’t employed you to take care of me, all right? If anything, she’s employed me to look after you. That and be big and intimidating, since you’re such a scrawny little shrimp.”

“Hey!” Kyle protested. “Who’s the head of the guards around here, anyway?”

“You are, sir,” said Drew with a grin. “Just don’t let it go to your head. You don’t have a scrap of power that your protectrix can’t take away. No man does.”

“I know that,” said Kyle.

“You know it in your head,” said Drew, “but I don’t think you get it.” He eyed Kyle thoughtfully for a moment, then opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped when they both saw Ellis approaching them.

“Sir,” said Ellis softly, when he was close enough for them to hear, speaking to Kyle.

Kyle nodded at him with what he hoped was a welcoming expression, although, in all honesty with himself, he had to admit Ellis’ air of cringing servility made him a little sick. Surely this wasn’t Drew’s idea of proper manhood-- unthinking submission to inscrutable power. Or did it only feel wrong because Ellis was cowering like this to a man rather than a woman? He’d have to ask Drew what he thought, sometime when Ellis wasn’t standing right in front of them with an expression that suggested he needed more encouragement before he would dare to say whatever he’d come over to say.

“What is it, Ellis?” he asked, as kindly as he could.

“Sir,” said Ellis again. “I wanted to-- apologize-- for my-- my suggestions to you, yesterday. I didn’t-- know-- I thought-- I’m sorry, sir, to have, to have suggested such things to you--”

“It’s okay,” said Kyle. “If that’s how you’ve had to survive, it’s not your fault. I just want to make sure you don’t have to do-- uh, any of that, any more. I mean, unless you want to. Far be it from me to judge. Just, uh, not with me.”

“No, sir,” Ellis agreed quickly. “Of course. I wouldn’t-- presume-- thank you, sir-- for, for everything.”

“Sure,” said Kyle, feeling increasingly embarrassed. “I mean, I didn’t do anything. Emily’s the one who’s trying to make the center safe for men.” Feeling this was a sentiment Drew would approve, he added, “Right, Drew?”

“Right,” said Drew. “You should thank the new directrix, Ellis.”

“I do thank her-- that is,” Ellis amended, “I’m grateful to her-- but I couldn’t speak to her.”

“I accept your thanks on her behalf,” Kyle suggested, but Ellis looked dissatisfied.

“I want to thank you, sir,” he insisted. “For your-- your kindness. To me. You could carry out the directrix’ orders without-- without being-- kind.”

It was true, Kyle thought, and even Drew must see it, that that was one of the choices a man could make without “acting like a girl.” There was little enough that a man could do in this world, but he could try to put a frightened man at ease instead of scorning him for trying to live by the rules of a regime the new directrix had abolished. He could be kind.

“You’re welcome,” he said to Ellis, hoping it would satisfy the man and make him go away, but it didn’t. So maybe Drew was right, that it wasn’t a great idea to be too nice to peope you couldn’t follow through by protecting. Not that Kyle didn’t intend to do his best for Ellis, but he couldn’t actually protect him, not being a woman. And not being a woman, the last thing he needed was a retinue of hangers-on desperate for the light of his countenance.

He turned and walked away from Ellis, followed by Drew.

Zach’s primary feeling on waking up was of bafflement at the number of unfamiliar sensations-- sharp-soft blades of grass pressing into his face, the unevenness of the ground under his body, the freshness of the air around him-- followed quickly by a panic that bolted him upright, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. The woman put her hand out, and Zach cried out involuntarily in anticipation, hunching over as if he could ward off the pain he expected.

“It’s all right,” the woman said, her hand hovering in midair for a moment before she returned it to her lap. “Don’t be afraid. You fell asleep, that’s all.”

“How--” Zach tried to swallow away the panicky tightness in his throat. “How long have I been--”

“About two hours,” said the woman-- Emily-- and Zach gasped. “Zach, it’s all right. I would have wakened you if I’d felt it necessary. You were very tired.”

He wasn’t all that practiced at reading women’s faces, but Emily’s seemed unthreatening; she was watching him quietly, her hands in her lap, and he wasn’t cold, which would seem to indicate that she was still doing her thing to shield him from the wind. So that was good, at least. They’d had a good conversation, too, before he fell asleep; she was planning on repairing all kinds of social ills, some of which impacted Zach personally, so that was all to the good. She’d be taking him back to the center shortly, and that wasn’t good, but it might not be too hideous. Kyle and his boyfriend would be watching out for Zach, probably, and if Zach played his cards right, managed just enough of a strut on his return from his outing with the new directrix, the other men might be impressed enough to leave him alone. Maybe. Too much of a strut, and they’d pile on first chance they got to take the piss and vinegar out of him. There’d be a delicate balance to strike. There always was. Usually it didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Zach’s whole body was surging with adrenaline; he felt the need to do something urgent and immediate, but didn’t know what it could be. There was nowhere to go but back to the center, no fight but the fight he’d been engaged in for sixty-seven days now. Fucking right he was tired. He wanted to lie back down on the grass and cry; he wanted somebody to rub his back and tell him it was going to be okay. He wanted his father.

Apparently it took one excursion into the fresh air to regress him to five years old, midday naptimes and all.

“Zach,” she said, and he fixed his attention on her. She lifted her hand again, and held it out to Zach, who looked at it, completely at a loss as to what he was supposed to do. Cower? He didn’t mind cowering before a woman, if that was what it took to stay alive, but she still didn’t look threatening; if anything, her expression had softened. After a second, she lowered her hand again, and he relaxed slightly.

“I admire you,” she said, and Zach scowled a bit, involuntarily, not sure what she was getting at. “You’re strong-minded, which I don’t always think of as a positive trait in men, but it’s helped you retain your identity and-- some-- basic morality-- in the face of female neglect. That’s admirable. It would grieve me if-- as you suggested-- you found it impossible to retain that quality. Under the circumstances still extant in the center.”

He didn’t answer. She hadn’t asked a question.

“Men need female protection,” said Emily, and for the first time she sounded angry, but Zach didn’t think it was at him. “They can’t function properly without it.”

“Apparently,” said Zach.

Emily sighed. “I-- Zach, listen. I can’t offer you protection. I’d like to, but I can’t. I’m trying to run a center, and I just took on two new men, one of whom is extremely difficult-- it would be irresponsible of me, to offer you protection when I don’t have the time or resources to effect it.”

“Just saying it effects it,” said Zach, through a certain shortness of breath.

Emily made an impatient gesture that made Zach flinch. “I’d have to take you home-- I’m not even going home myself these days-- I have other men under my protection, there are considerations-- and I can’t in good conscience recommend you to any other woman I know. You’re not-- you’re practically feral.”

“I’m not,” said Zach, his voice so taut it scared him. “I’d be-- good.”

“No,” said Emily. “I can’t expect that. Better to civilize the center and hope that you’re civilized along with it. I’m sorry, Zach.”

“You wouldn’t have to take me home,” said Zach.

Emily scowled at him. “I feel my protection would remove a necessary criterion for residence in a center for unprotected men.”

“But Kyle and Drew are under your protection.”

Emily’s eyebrows shot up.

“You want a job as a guard?”

Zach searched her face for some indication of whether she considered that even the remotest of possibilities, and found none.

“Do you really think that would be a responsible move on my part?” Emily asked. “To place a trauma victim in a position of authority over the men who brutalized him?”

“Well-- you kind of already asked me what you should do to them,” said Zach.

“I asked you for input,” said Emily, “subject to my final approval.”

“I’d be subject to your final approval anyway,” said Zach. “I mean, Kyle and Drew are, right. I guess I’d be subject to Kyle’s authority, too. It’s not like you’re tying the other guys up and putting me in a room with them and a big spiky stick.” He paused. “Not that I fantasize about that or anything.”

Emily very nearly succeeded in suppressing her smile, but Zach saw the tell-tale twitch of her mouth. “I’m sure you do. And that’s why it would be foolish of me to--”

“It’s not that, though,” Zach interrupted, too tense to practice caution. “I wouldn’t-- I’d do it right. I want-- I’d like-- I want it done right.”

“I believe you,” said Emily. “And that is why I say I admire you. But--”

She paused for a very long time, long enough for Zach to want badly to fidget, but he tried to sit very still, his eyes on Emily.

“All right,” she said finally.

Zach lunged forward and flung his arms around Emily, which in almost instantaneous retrospect was a really really bad idea, and it was extremely surprising that she didn’t hurt him, or even push him away. She sat still as he peeled his treacherously shaky arms off her stiff body and embraced the ground instead, beside her, pressing his face into it and hoping she didn’t kill him, or rescind her offer, in which case he’d have to kill himself for losing his one miraculous chance at protection through one stupid impulsive gesture.

“That’s better,” she said, above him, while he breathed deep, trying to still his body’s twitching. “I appreciate your gratitude, but I have to advise against demonstrating it by grabbing me. I don’t believe in men and women touching unnecessarily. I’m sure you’d agree it’s a dangerous habit.”

“I don’t like being touched either,” said Zach to the grass that was pillowing his face; it was generally true.

“Well then, we’re in agreement,” said Emily. “I think we’ll get along fine.”

“Am I--” He gulped air. “Are you-- really--”

“I haven’t decided yet exactly what I’m doing,” she said, “but you may consider me your protectrix from now until such time as I withdraw my protection, yes. Gaia help us all.”


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May 2011

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