Portland, Oregon, Spring 2012
_You were a child
Crawling on your knees toward it
Making momma so proud
But your voice is too loud
We like to watch you laughing
You pick the insects off plants
No time to think of consequences
Take only what you need from it
A family of trees wanting to be haunted
Take only what you need from it
A family of trees wanting to be haunted_
Rhona nursed a Dark and Stormy with two straws and an umbrella, her duffel on the seat beside her, watching the spring rain slide down the huge glass windows. She was trying very hard not to cry. It’s not that the Fetch had upset her so much as…she felt like she was mourning something she was never going to have in the first place.
Could you imagine her with kids? Tiny whining blonde monsters. And if we all become our parents, well…she was doing the little ones a favor by abstaining.
“Of all the gin joints in all the world you had to walk into mine.” A man was leaning on the bar, both manicured and scruffy. Glasses and bow tie. He was staring at her like she was a puzzle to be solved.
Rhona sat up slightly, pulled her top up. “If that was a reference I’m afraid it’s lost on me. I sort of missed…most things.”
“How can you not know Casablanca — you know what, watch this.“ He whipped out a phone with a massive screen, tapped a few buttons. A black and white image appeared, a black man at a piano while a woman looked at a man.
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by…
He was watching the screen, but she was watching him. Watching the sparks fly across his fingers. She normally hated circuits. (Too many flashbacks to Sophie yelling at her for handing her the wrong mother boat or whatever.) But the sparks felt…familiar somehow. The comfort of a thunderstorm on the prairie, coming from far off. Huddling up together with her family. Her family who hadn’t noticed she was gone. Aside from her father. Her poor father.
“It’s a little mainstream.” he babbled. “But the classics are the classics. And this gin joint is mine, so —”
“I’m very impressed.” she said, dryly, obviously not.
“But you see—” He took her arm very gently and pulled.
She drew her knife faster than he could see and pressed it against his chest, pulling him close, whispered in his ear. “Ask first.”
She suddenly found herself with her head against the bar, arm locked behind her.
A striped Beast was holding her, a lizard looking creature on the other side. “Majesty would you like me to take care of this for you?”
Bow Tie Man touched his temple. “No. Uhhh…no.” The knife was gone. Perhaps it had never been there in the first place? “We just need to…uh…”
“She attacked you, Highness.”
Rhona pushed against the Beast’s massive hands slightly to look up at him, processing as best she could through her rum haze. And yet he was doing the same thing, raggedly running to catch up to what had just happened. “You touched me without asking, highness.”
“Swear.” The Beast growled.
“I do, all the time.” She smirked. He applied more pressure. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just do so much better in handcuffs. You really should handcuff me.”
Bow Tie Man rolled his eyes. “Oh the Contracts of Separation. So useful.”
“Swear.” The Beast growled.
“I really don’t see how I’m in the wrong here.” Rhona said wryly. “You shouldn’t have touched me.”
“You attempted to harm the Verdant King,” the lizard spat.
“Oh that. That was a warning.”
“See your problem,” Bow Tie Man said, “is overreaction. I get that. I’m the king of that among other things. But this is a peaceful Freehold. Clarity is priceless. We have to keep each other safe. We want to keep you safe. You want to be safe. It’s an easy bargain.”
Rhona’s heart was rabbiting in her chest.
He leaned in next to her. “Hey.” His voice was soft and calming. “I’m ”/characters/ironicjeremy" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jeremy. What’s your name?"
“I’m not interested.”
He sighed. “Does it ever enter your mind for a moment that I am not hitting on you?”
“Oh you weren’t? I just assumed you were bad at it.” The Beast ground her cheek into the bar.
“You’re lucky you’re pretty.”
“And you’re lucky you have bodyguards." She said, twisting slightly. "But you’re running out of luck.”
“You can leave the Freehold now or swear.” Ironic Jeremy said.
“How about I just stay out of your way?” Rhona said. “I’m looking for information on my father and this is my only lead. Let me go and I’ll stay out of your hair.”
“If you wish to remain in the Freehold you must swear.”
Somehow Rhona flirted with her face squished into a PBR soaked counter. “I think you’ll find I’m usually the exception to the rule.”
Jeremy sighed. “Do it.”
The Beast picked her up like a rag doll. She kicked and screamed all the way but he was too strong and she was too drunk.
She remembered what happened next in flashes, like a nightmare. Throwing herself away from him with all her strength. His fist coming down.
“You come to us lost, unable to find your way past the rage and the thorns the Keepers left in your soul.”
Yelling. Fighting. Swiping. The welt growing on her face. The lizard so fast and alien, wrapping her up.
“You are our sister, but you are dangerous to yourself and your family.”
Screaming no at the top of her lungs but nothing coming out. The hit coming down again. Her teeth loosening, the crunch of her nose. The question being asked again, her answering with a right cross that did nothing to the Beast.
“Put away your knife, raise it not without the permission of the Antler Crown, lest you be banished from the Court of Roses.”
Her voice shaking as she mutters the words they want so much, swearing through bloody teeth.
“For a year and a day, we will keep you safe until you find your soul again.”
And then he was there again, Ironic Jeremy, pain in his face. “You can leave whenever you want, you know.” He handed her an Amaranthine. “For the pain.”
She pushed it away. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” She said. She had never wanted to commit violence so much, yet the idea made her nauseous. It was a terrifying feeling. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bow Tie Man.” She said shakily, and she stumbled out the door.
Jeremy rarely slept well, but that night was worse. Not his usual functional insomnia, just weighty anxiety. He was giving her what she wanted. Why was this so hard?
The next day there was a dead hedgebeast on his doorstep with a note. “He fell on some thorns. – Rhona.”
After that came the tied up privateers the Summer Court had been looking for and the addresses of the children she had returned to their homes.
He summoned her to Court. “The point was to keep you safe.”
“I thought the point was to keep me from my knife. Are you saying I should allow those who threaten the Freehold to continue to do so, Majesty?” In his life before Arcadia, Jeremy had never had children for a reason. There was a contempt they perfected that honestly scared him a bit and it seemed the girl had never grown out of it. She bowed low. “May I go, your Majesty?” He nodded. As she turned away, he tried very hard not to watch her go.
She began going to the bars Jeremy owned and getting into fights. Never starting them per se, just escalating things with a kiss or a well placed word. The combatants would tussle and then she’d put them all down. He’d find her sitting at the bar with a Shirley Temple. “I didn’t want them to hurt your beautiful counters,” she said.
It was the privateer raid when everything came to a head. She was beginning her training with the Summer Court, and she had run into a slaver’s safe house without backup when she was supposed to be observing. She had nearly been cut to ribbons by gunfire. Even with healing, she was taken to the Summer infirmary.
Her room was a beautiful shade of yellow, and she glowed despite her wounds. She was pacing when Jeremy walked into the room, trying to get over a limp by walking on it. “What do you think you’re doing?” He yelled at her. “This has stopped being funny. This has stopped being cute. I will not have your death on my conscience!”
“Then lift the oath.” She said.
“That’s not an option.”
“Then I better get working on this leg.” She marched faster.
“If I wanted, I could have you paralyzed, unable to lift a finger if your Keeper returned.” He growled at her.
“DO IT!” She yelled, stopping short in front of him. “Try. If you or your monsters touch me again I will murder myself in front of you with my own knife, the knife I took from my Keeper after I killed him. He called himself Death. He called himself my father. And I murdered him. Do not think I hold your life or your power in high regard.”
Jeremy was acutely aware of how not good at this he was. He was exhausted and frustrated and yet exhilarated in his anger. He rarely was able to focus long enough to muster up a real rage. (It wasn’t his emotion after all.) It bothered him how obvious the answer was and how blind she was to it. It was so easy, so simple. He grabbed her, held her close.
She struggled at first, but it was out of surprise more than discomfort. She could hear his heart beating in his chest, fast and warm. She remembered the last time she had heard a man’s heart like this, her ear to his chest, his arms around her. Simon. There had been many encounters since that frozen day, but she could still hear his heartbeat in the pit of her stomach, frantic as he lost blood from a wound she hadn’t meant to inflict. How he had tried to calm her but the quick tattoo of his heart betrayed him.
She pushed Jeremy off. “How dare you—” she stuttered.
“It’s what you wanted.” Jeremy said, searching for a handle on the moment.
“It’s my choice whether or not to take it.”
“You’re right,” he said. Then, “That’s what you wanted to hear.” Not teasing, just factual. Painfully factual. She swung at him with all her strength. He pushed the blow aside.
He walked towards her and she backed up as he came. “You want to sing again without being frightened of what will happen when the song stops. You want Clara to come away from her altars and call and you want Simon to grow up and forget you. You want to sit in a field and watch things grow. You want your father to have spent his life searching for you. You desperately want your knife back because it’s the only thing that makes you feel safe from Him. And you want me to ask if I can kiss you.”
She scoffed, back against the wall. “No I don’t.” Laughed. "I don’t. You are an egomaniac sir. A true egomaniac if you think — " and she tackle kissed him.
“Ow.” He said matter-of-factly and kissed her back.
“I want you to know,” she said, unbuttoning his shirt. “This will only happen once.”
“Whatever you want,” he replied.