you've been burrowed in your bed for half a week when you hear it.
god, you hate that word. you hate the expectations, you hate the implications, and most of all you hate your complicity in it all. you don't--you don't want this. the thought of--of turning someone into–
you just wanted to make it through another year, you told yourself.
and then she showed up.
every time someone got ideas, every time someone treated you like a thing, every time a challenge nearly left their lips
she was there, wasn't she?
she's not a good girl, she said. or maybe she is a good girl, but she's not your good girl, she said.
(it was--it's a lie. her kindness is a lie. her gentleness is a lie. her protection is a lie. fairy-gold spun into feelings, because places like this snuff out purity of intention like a tea-candle in a tornado, right?)
"Mistresssssssss." A rustling, a gentle weight from above. Despite your best efforts, the magic of "if I hide under the covers the monster won't see me" has no hold over the folk who call this place home.
"You have to come out sometime."
(you drank deep of the lie. you drowned yourself in the lie. it felt amazing, didn't it?)
(until the comedown, of course.)
(god, you don't even remember how it started. an errant look, a teaseyplayful turn of phrase, something that set all your fears snowballing 'til the words burst right out--)
i, you, challenge, duel. you don't--you know you said the words. you know in the abstract you said them, because otherwise you wouldn't be here, but the moment feels so messy in your memory you can't–
(she looked so charmed.)
she looked like she'd always planned for this one way or another, like she'd looked into the whirlwind of frantic frightened energy making your heart pound and the strongest sentiment she could muster was,
gee, pluck looks cute on you.
you crammed and crammed and crammed, living and breathing and sleeping and eating spellbooks. you're not sure you're People in the same way you were before you soaked up that magic. you–
"....shouldleavemealone." tiny tiny timid-kitten voice.
"But, however could I leave my dear darling Mistress alone? After all, we familiars exist to see to your every need! Why, I could scarcely call myself a familiar if I let you languish in your burrow, li–"
(she said mistress. she said mistress, right? it sounded like she said–but, but she wouldn’t say–she wouldn’t, couldn’t, right? she wouldn’t call you–)
you don't think
“Theeeeere, there we go, that’s a good girl–”
you don't think familiars are supposed to pet you.
(but it works, doesn't it? it coaxes you out, juuuuuust a bit.)
you don't think
you don't think you'll ever forget the way she looked at you. eyes warm and deep and soothing like–
like of all the feelings she could evoke, she chose safety, comfort, sink-for-me-in-your-own-time. an inevitability, so she doesn’t have to rush it.
the magic spilled out from you, spooled out from you, half-memorized incantations taking on a thrashing splashing flailing flooding life of their own
a severely off-kilter grin, an oversaturated oil-slick blush. she looked like she hadn't had this much fun in ages.
"I--I'm fine! My needs are fine! Because! I don't have! Needs! Except--except, except snacks, but--"
Pet, pet, pet. It's not--it's not what's petting you that makes you flinch, you know? She's acclimated you to the claws, the spines, the--well, "poison" is overselling it, but that--but when you're like this, everything makes you flinch.
"What you need, my dear darling Mistress, is to--"
tell me what to do. tell me what to do. please, please tell me what to do. you don't--you never wanted this and it's taking all you've got to keep quiet and you're too scared to forfeit but she's so
is this okay? is this okay? would you like to be a–
(she looked so taken with you, even then. she didn't look like they usually look. she looked like--)
the two of you settled on making a manticore of her. it's--you wouldn't have thought of it. you would've gone for something small, something cuddly, something that evokes warm memories of old pets, but–
(you wonder if the magic took too much. you wonder if a little bit of you spilled out into her.)
but it feels safe, doesn't it? it feels exciting, doesn't it? like you Disaster Topped your way into becoming part of a dragon's hoard.
“I wonnnnnnder, Mistress.”
she coils around you, tail taking its time but finding its way to your face soon enough, stinger gently tilting your chin up
“What kind of familiar you would have become.” singsong teasing and a cat-with-the-canary grin. it’s not entirely a question.
sometimes you wonder if you dreamed it, if you never really won, if this is–if this is her way of gently getting you used to your real fate.
you can’t. you can’t. you can’t face it. you squeak out a wobbly wordless little noise in the negative and bolt back under the covers.
claws tracing swirls on your shoulder, kisses through the covers.
“Not a pup, nonono.”
(you burrow a little deeper.)
oh no oh no this is all–you didn’t win, did you? you lost, you lost, and every moment since
“Ohhhh, oh, I know.”
every single second since you’ve been stuck in a game, in her game, nothing but a cat playing with–
“A mouse?” she rrrs and prrs and rumbles, palpably pleased with herself in a way that would be absolutely INFURIATING if it didn’t make you feel so small. “A mouse.”
you try to come up with some brilliant counterargument, something that’ll make it absolutely positively certain that you’re Not a mouse, Actually, but the whispery squeaky protests that do come out only make you wonder if–
you're not--you're not! you refuse! you refuse to go along with this! you refuse, 'cos if you let it in even a little bit then--then, then there's no going back, is there? you've seen how ecstatic the other (not the other pets, you're not a pet, the pets) pets look, how head-over-heels they are for hopeless helpless servility, and--
"....'mnotamouse." not even if you want to be. not even if you imagine familiarhood, pethood, mousehood as something as inexorable and inevitable and irresistible as staring down a borrower-sized hole in the wall and counting down the moments 'til you can’t help but shout, it was made for me!
that measly morsel of protest awakens something in her, spins up some predatory instinct. she pulls the covers aside, pounces, lazy languid smiles and gloating and barely-restrained hunger. you wriggle and scurry, you scramble and shimmy, you somehow manage to get away only to find yourself–
(it happens so fast. vertigo and coziness turning claustrophobic and breath hot on your cheek.)
whatever she’s saying doesn’t register, lost in a torrent of i’m a mouse, of course i’m a mouse, i’m a mouse and i’m a bad mouse and i’m so very very sorry ‘cos i wanna be a good mouse, the best mouse, please don’t eat me and i promise, mistress, i promise i’ll be a–
you can’t stop the tears and tremors, can’t stop clinging in the desperate hope it’ll forestall whatever fury’s going to pour out of her once her patience for you runs out–
pet, pet. you almost wish she’d punish you. a slap, a scratch, a shove, a sting. something.
there’s an honesty to pain in a place like this, isn’t there?
kindness is a lie, a lure, a snare, an endless wary wait for the other shoe to drop
but when someone hurts you?
when someone hurts you, you can at least trust that they’re sincere about it.
“You know I couldn’t bear to usurp your place, yes? You’re mistress.” she says it in the cadence of good girl, in the cadence of good mouse, with the featherlight-but-firm weight of a pet name for a prized familiar.
whipping shaken little squeaks and slivers of pleas into something like words is a process, and she’s rooting for you every step of the way.
your voice cracks, shrinks, breaks. the words come out with a flinch because you know it’s wrong, you know you’ve erred, you don’t know what any of this is but the one thing you know is that you’ve displeased--
hands (paws? claws?) together. a smile so warm it threatens to send the room spinning.
“Oh, good girl. Good mouse. Good–”
a twinge. a shiver. a crack in your–composure’s not the word ‘cos you’re not composed, but you can feel whatever held you together fizzle away like candyfloss on a misty day..
you press and press and nuzzle and burrow like you’re trying to tunnel out of jail with your nose and
“Am i?” it comes out in the tone of i’m not, am i?
“Am i really?”
eases you back, just a bit
just enough to get a good look in your eyes
(dizzying. so dizzying. you don’t have a word for their color but you imagine it’s what drowning in sap feels like. are you drowning in sap? are you drowning in her? are you–)
“And I’m Miss.”
“And mistress keeps her cat.”
barb tracing along your jaw, claw stroking your cheek, an offer, not a threat
“And Miss keeps her mouse.”
you–you don’t know how the magic works. you don’t know why it works. you think and you think and the more you think the more you worry thinking too much’ll unravel it, like losing your nerve on mile two of a suspension-of-disbelief bridge with no other side you can see
so maybe you shouldn’t think.
maybe there’s comfort in the unknowable. maybe there’s hope. maybe there’s something more joyously messy and complicated in your future than a simple choice of jailer or jazz jackrabbit kinnie.
“We should find a niiiiice cozy spot and eat supper, mistress.”
“We should find a niiiiice cozy spot and eat supper, mistress.”
a giddy smile.
“And if you’re a good girl, a good mouse, a good mistress–”
her eyes and her lips and her teeth and her tail all tell the same story, mischief mingled with venom (the fun kind, not the mean kind. mistress is fragile!)
“I’ll treat you to dessert.”
once upon a time, the thought of going out was paralyzing. the thought of choosing where and what to eat was paralyzing. hours and hours spent in a google-review gaol of your own making.
but now? now, the right choice comes to you as easy as your next breath.