Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: On the Bench
"London, I said don't."
Clenching my fists, I say nothing. Fi sits on the bench, her head tipped back, her eyes closed. Somewhere out in the park, Ghost and Khardeen patrol, ensuring the area is safe for Fi's leisure. Fang stands behind her, playing sentry, and I'm at her side, wishing she'd say something. Anything.
I'm not mortal and I never have been, but suddenly I know just how those little boys sent to the principal's office feel.
Finally, Fi sighs and opens her eyes. She looks at me, her expression an impressive mix of exasperation, annoyance, and affection. Huh. Honestly wasn't expecting the affection. "London, one of these centuries, the Ancients are going to remember they technically outrank and take issue with my impertinence."
I shudder at the idea. Fi is not only Queen, she's the last of the necromancers as well. Being the last of her kind twice over protects her from the Ancients and their judgment to some extent, but one day they might decide there are worse things than a world without necromancers and a Fae Court without a Queen. Fi's connection to her wraiths means that we share in her experiences, life and death, pain and pleasure. Past experience has shown her capable of dulling the connection, but so long as she lives, so does our link. It works both ways, this link, which is why she works so hard to keep the Ancients from punishing me.
"I beg your pardon?" Fi goes rigid, her gaze turning to me slowly. She's clenching her jaw tight and her night-sky eyes are flashing with simmering anger.
Behind her, Fang is instantly on alert. I let my own senses do a quick scan of the area, but can detect no danger, no threat.
"Something amiss, milady?" Fang, ever on the proper side of things, asks.
Fi, however, has her attention focused on me. "The link, our bond, you think that's why I defended you? Why I protect you?"
I blink. "Of course. What we - I - would endure under torture, in confinement, you would share."
"And that...that would be the only reason I have to protect you?"
"Well, that," I agree with a shrug, "and it challenges your authority to have another power assume to reprimand your wraiths."
She stares at me for several long moments, her expression neutral but intent, then turns to Fang. "Do you think that?"
Fang frowns. "No, milady."
I snort derisively. "Fi, come off it! You're not going to claim to care, are you? Of your nine wraiths, most of us were mistakes. You didn't even know you COULD create wraiths when you transitioned Khardeen, you transitioned me while you were out-of-your-mind crazy and lashing out blindly, and Fang was transitioned when you needed to know what he knew about the plot to kill your boy-toy. We're soldiers, bodyguards, indentured servants, bound eternally, the end."
There's a sudden pang in my chest, sharp and cold, there and gone almost too quick to notice. Fi looks to Fang again, studying him for a long moment before speaking.
"Fang, do...do you think that?"
Again, Fang frowns and answers, "No, milady."
"What do you think?" she asks.
Fang shifts uncomfortably. "Duty is duty, milady. Made vampires serve the ones who Make them. The Makers have given the Made new life, spared them from death and granted them immortality. Additionally, Makers assist the Made acclimate and adjust to vampiric culture, provide them with shelter and an initial income, and teach them how to hunt and feed safely. In return, the Made vampires swear fealty and serve their Maker. It is a matter of trade."
"And that's how you see...me? Us? This?"
Fang shakes his head and grins. "That is how I saw it in the beginning, how I came to accept it. Not even the most kind-hearted of Makers, however, regularly bake pumpkin and cranberry cake - which they themselves loathe - just because it happens to be their Made's favourite."
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Not only proper, but a suck-up to boot, that's Fang.
Fi glares at me but speaks to Fang. "So you're saying I'm your master-cum-baker?"
"Ha, no." Chuckling, Fang shakes his head and, in a rare break in proprietary, gently skims one knuckle along the curve of her cheek. "With Makers and Made, milady, it's about obligation, responsibility, and debt. With you, however, it's...we may have been transitioned for convenience or by accident or in a moment of emotion, but there's no denying that you care, Fi, and...and I love you too."
This time, there's no resisting; I roll my eyes and snort. Fi's head snaps around in my direction, but all she says is, "Khary."
Khardeen appears at her side instantly. It's almost comical to see; him, seven-feet and two-hundred plus pounds of pure muscle, her not even five-feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. I always thought it was like seeing a gorilla with a peacock, seeing those two together.
Khardeen looks from me to Fang, then studies Fi for a long moment. Finally, he sighs and says, "What's wrong?"
It's a redundant question; he already knows. Fi keeps him and Keeley, our leader, close mentally, psychically, however you want to call it. He knows everything she thinks, says, and does; Fi calls it her open book policy. Keeley, Khardeen, her mate, her cats, and who only know who else having access to her mind like that always seemed like a security risk to me, but Fi would just shrug away my concerns and say, "If I couldn't trust them, they wouldn't have the access."
I didn't have access.
"Khary, I...I'd like to go home." Fi gets to her feet and fiddles with her necklace, a nervous habit of hers she's had since I met her. "I, um, miss my cats. Is Lizzie at Haven? I could use some girl time. Maybe...maybe Sparrow and Sabine could, um, join us?"
Khardeen smiles. "Of course, Fi. Sabine's already heating the milk."
"No!" Fi winces and bites her lip. "I mean, that's, um, alright. I can do that. I, ah, just want the company."
Khardeen nods. "As you wish, Buttercup." He offers her his arm. "Shall we?"
Fang waits for them to leave before turning to me. He has an oddly pitying look on his face. "You, London, are a moron," he informs me.
"Oh, come on, Fang," I snap. "Surely, you're not so naïve as to think we're anything more than cheap labour."
"Whatever the strength of my naïvety, I think the bigger issue is your cynicism. After the centuries you have spent together, even more so than Jester or Sparrow or Sabine or Wolf or Ghost or I, you remain as blind as an infant. You are a moron." He pauses, assessing me in disdain briefly before sighing and shaking his head. "Keeley is on his way here. Fi is...upset, so he wants to be sure she is settled with Sabine, Sparrow, and Elizabeth before dealing with you. He would like you to, and these are his words, enjoy the bench."
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