52 – Topaz
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Being left behind when Lord Andreas went out felt strange and not quite right, after so many months more or less constantly in his Lord's presence.

There didn't seem to be anything he was needed for; this wasn't his house, and he was distinctly nervous that he might anger one of the mages who lived here. He didn't think they'd do anything, all these sensitives seemed to be treated well, and anyway, they needed Lord Andreas too much to risk angering him, but, well... And Lila was with her Lady, who had apparently been invited to stay here as well. It must not have been planned, though, because the other mage, Lord Brennan, had offered to drive them home to get what they'd need for a few days.

So he reverted to familiar behaviour, and retreated to the library to wait for Lord Andreas to come back.

Like a dog waiting for his master to come home from work, he sighed to himself, curling up on the couch, legs tucked up automatically in the position he was used to from his loveseat at home.

The thought didn't make the feeling of being lost and alone go away.

This was silly. He was surrounded by books on all sides. Surely he could find something to distract himself while Lord Andreas talked to Lord Rory Donovan—everyone might call him Van, but that sounded uncomfortably familiar, even in the privacy of Topaz' own mind, even if he added the honorific to it the way the Donovan sensitives did. There were Lord Andreas' books, but he found the intricate language of them an effort to follow; something lighter would be better. He got up, scanned the shelves that lined the walls. Fiction of every imaginable sort, a whole shelf of what turned out to be plays, another of books on art, one wall that was a mixture of non-fiction on just about every imaginable topic.

His gaze fell on the desk, and stayed there. The book that was the heart of this whole case lay there, simple and innocent, with a couple of Lord Andreas' law books.

Should he?

Well, free sensitives were reading it, so it couldn't be so bad for a sensitive who lived with a mage, right? What could really be in it? Besides, if he knew what all the controversy was over, he might be more use to Lord Andreas, and to Lila... Lord Andreas hadn't ever told him not to read something, didn't mind even if he looked through books on mage laws while waiting to be needed, surely he wouldn't be angry.

He picked it up, made himself comfortable on the couch. Maybe just a quick look through it, so he'd know what was going on. He opened the book at random.

It is a fundamental aspect of sensitive nature to feel a deep need for approval and affection from a mage they have bonded to. As a result, a sensitive will typically go to great lengths to please their mage, with no need for threats or punishment, simply for the sake of a moment's praise or a brief demonstration of affection.

Hey, I guess it isn't just me.

He flipped the page curiously.

Accepted theory is that mages do not bond to sensitives, but all available evidence directly contradicts this. It is acknowledged fact that a mage with a new sensitive will be extremely possessive. This is normally explained as being a result of a social system that subtly encourages each mage to see all other mages as potential threats to their ownership of their sensitive. That doesn't adequately explain the degree of irrational protective behaviour some mages experience. The moment a mage takes possession of a new sensitive, the thirty-days law comes into effect. Among other things it protects the mage in question from the normal consequences of acts against another mage, if the first mage perceives the other as a threat to the safety or ownership of the newly-claimed sensitive. At any other time, while a mage is permitted to protect one's own sensitive, an act against another mage would require reasonable proof of an actual threat.

Topaz went back to the beginning of the book, and started there. If the whole book was like this, he didn't want to miss any of it. Probably he couldn't finish it now, but surely he'd have other chances.

It really wasn't a very thick book, and the way it was organized made it easy to read and understand. The tone was formal, but he found no unfamiliar words except for a few that were clearly explained; it might be a little hard for some sensitives with low literacy levels, but certainly not impossible, especially give the strong motivation they were likely to have, and it seemed like a reasonable compromise with the complex and convoluted language mages mostly, in his limited experience, preferred. Absently, he reached up behind him to flip on the light, as the gathering shadows began to make it difficult to see, and kept reading.

Somewhere inside, the pieces of the puzzle he'd been finding for himself meshed with these new pieces, and they all began to fit together to make a whole picture. The mage who wrote this really understood sensitives, and that made it easy to believe that the parts about mages and the parts about how they interacted were true as well.

And somewhere underneath the words, hidden on some level where it was never stated but was there nonetheless, was the idea that each was half and incomplete alone, that together they made a whole the way nature had intended, that neither had better abilities or tendencies but that each needed those of the other.

That felt right, and he didn't think it was wishful thinking.

Much to his surprise, he finished the first part of it, right up to where it changed to individual stories, without interruption. That conversation must be taking longer than expected. He laid the book beside him on the couch, gaze fixed on nothing, lost in his own thoughts.

No wonder the hunters are so freaked by this. They don't want any sensitive to ever question that we're anything but property. They don't want mages to start asking questions.

No wonder the Donovans are trying so hard to pass that anti-abuse law, if this is the kind of thing they believe. It never actually says that sensitives are equals, but it sure makes it clear they don't think it's right to treat us badly. It doesn't claim that we're equal people, but it does say that we are people.

They've read this. The Donovan sensitives. Lila too.

Well, it was a safe bet that no one was going to get mad at him for going to the bathroom or getting himself a glass of water. He got up, returned the book to its place on the desk, and ventured out into the hall.

The little half-bath was across the hall and down a little, but he paused, hearing voices from the opposite direction, probably the living room. That was Lila's Lady Catherine... and Lord Andreas?

Anything else forgotten, he headed in that direction. Quickly.

Lila was curled up at her Lady's feet on a large pillow, comfortably, listening to the debate above her with interest. The two mages were discussing... history?

Lady Catherine finished a sentence and paused, her attention going to him, with no sign of annoyance.

Lord Andreas glanced behind him, to Topaz, and smiled. "All done reading?"

"My Lord? Why...?" This wasn't right, Lord Andreas should have come looking for him or asked Lady Catherine to have Lila find him, something like that, not just leave him to read something he wasn't sure he was supposed to read to begin with.

"I didn't have the heart to interrupt. If you were on your way to get a drink or something, go ahead, and take your time. I'll be in the library." He turned back to look at Lady Catherine. "I very much hope we can pick this up again sometime tomorrow."

"I don't see why not, especially since Kerry was gracious enough to offer me the other guest room. Living in the city, and not driving, would have made it an extremely frustrating week, otherwise."

"Yes, I can imagine." Lord Andreas levered himself carefully to his feet.

Lila met Topaz' gaze squarely, and closed one eye in a slow, unmistakable wink.

He shook himself, hastily resumed his trip to the bathroom, and fetched a glass of cold water from the kitchen. That wasn't how things went, either, mages didn't halt conversations because of a sensitive.

Lord Andreas, true to his word, was in the library already, on the chair.

"Close the door?" he said, as Topaz came in.

Puzzled, he obeyed, and perched on the edge of the couch, setting the glass on the floor safely to one side.

"My Lord?"

Lord Andreas leaned back, regarding him thoughtfully—amazing how good you could get at reading body language, even if you weren't permitted to look high enough to meet your Lord's eyes.

"You got through the whole book?"

"All the general stuff at the beginning, yes, my Lord, I didn't get into the stories in the second half. I thought it would be something to distract me while you were away..."

"I'm not angry, relax. If I hadn't wanted you to read it, I would have told you not to or taken it with me. I am curious to hear your thoughts on it. Truthfully. And I promise not to get angry, no matter what those thoughts happen to be. I'd honestly like to know."

What on earth is going on? And how the heck do I answer that?

With the truth, I guess, and hope he keeps that promise.

"It matches with what I know, my Lord," he said, cautiously. "And explains some things that I've noticed but didn't really understand. A lot of it is new and I can't be sure about it, but it... it feels like it's true."

"What matches?"

Topaz shrugged. "Sensitives being good at physical sorts of things." Like video games. "Being adaptable and getting bored easy without something to keep us busy, being very social and needing to touch lots and be around people, all that kind of stuff. Most of the sensitives I've ever met aren't very good at thinking about long-range effects of things, we mostly live in right now. And some of the feelings he mentions."

"Which feelings?"

Topaz hesitated.

"Tell me? Please?"

It was the please as much as the gentle tone that made him answer despite all misgivings—aware for the first time of exactly what was going on, that the risks didn't matter if it might make his mage happy with him and that was just part of what he was. "Things like magic and shapechanging feeling good, sometimes." He saw the next question coming, and answered it unasked. "Times when I'm feeling all relaxed and happy beforehand. Things like how, even back at first when I was scared..." You're being honest, say all of it. "…and angry all the time, it still felt good when you were happy with me. Still does, it's just stronger now, and there's not so much to get in the way of it." He knew he was shivering, anxiety and adrenaline both running high. Bad enough that Lord Andreas had absolute power over him physically and an alarming amount emotionally, without handing him the rest, but what else could he do? "He even got the other side of that, that it feels so awful when I can't." He faltered, hating just the thought of that, the terrible desperate frightened emptiness it created.

"And yet there are any number of mages convinced that they need threats and punishments," Lord Andreas murmured. "We're taught that. And it explains a lot?"

"Why I react like that, and that it isn't only me. And why..." Some instinct screamed, not that one! at him, and he bit his lip, hard, eyes firmly on the floor somewhere around Lord Andreas' feet.

"Why...?" Lord Andreas prompted. "I promised not to be mad. I intend to keep it."

"Why... a lot of the time... you still see Veritas... and not me at all." Instinct wanted him to pull away, coil himself into the corner, as though that would really be any kind of defence at all; he made himself stay where he was, though he felt a tear slip down his cheek.

Lord Andreas stayed very still for what felt like forever, but was probably only a few heartbeats.

His mage sighed, heavily, and got up from the chair, moving carefully to the corner of the couch instead. The small part of Topaz' mind not frozen with shock and confusion noted that he'd have to help his Lord up from the soft deep cushions.

"Come here. Don't look so scared, I'm not mad at you."

Obediently, he snuggled comfortably against Lord Andreas, felt some of the fear and anxiety fade, losing the battle against the reassurance of that contact. Lord Andreas' arms tightened around him.

"That book," he said, with another sigh, "is dangerous beyond anything I've ever seen, I think. And the resistance to it is going to be phenomenal. After this long firmly convinced that I've always taken such good care of Veritas and now you, and to realize how far short of that I've fallen out of ignorance and thoughtlessness, is extremely disconcerting. There are a great many others who will take a stand against it not so much because they don't believe it as because they'll be terrified of having to confront their own behaviour if they accept it. And there are those, like Lera Alexeiev, who are going to welcome it with open arms and defend it fanatically at any cost."

"You do take good care of me, my Lord," Topaz insisted.

"Ah? You're still being honest."

"Um... mostly, my Lord."

"Hm. Hypothetically speaking, if you could have anything in the world, what would it be? I'm not going to be upset or use it against you, no matter what it is."

Topaz considered that. He certainly spent enough time on daydreams, but were any of them what he really wanted, as more than a way to amuse himself while waiting for his Lord? In all the world, what did he honestly want? He felt Lord Andreas' hand stroking his hair and back lightly, his mage waiting patiently while he worked out the answer to that one. "More to do," he said finally. "I can do more than just finding the right books and making lunch and doing laundry. Sensitives don't survive unless we're smarter than that. And being able to say no sometimes, not all the time, just sometimes."

"That's all?" Lord Andreas sounded distinctly startled. "This is a daydream, anything at all. Including freedom."

Topaz shrugged. That he couldn't truly say he wanted to be free wasn't much of a surprise, he was too familiar with his own hunger to be with his Lord and please him. But maybe that was okay, just part of being sensitive and part of being who he was, and not something to resent. "Try to remember I'm me and not Veritas? Being able to keep in touch with Li... um, Sable sometimes? That's, um, all that comes to mind that I'd wish for, my Lord. Being free mostly means wondering where your next meal's coming from and where you're going to sleep, or having a really awful job, and watching for hunters all the time, and sometimes seeing your friends get sick or badly hurt or die. I'd rather stay with you."

"After I'm responsible for taking you away from your best friend and taking away even your name..."

"You didn't." It was an interruption, which he shouldn't do, but that line of thought had to stop. It was just too un-Andreas-like, too disturbing. "The hunters did that, my Lord. They would have noticed me anyway and given me to someone else. They took everything."

"Hm, to a point I'll concede that, but I haven't exactly made an effort to give it back. And you'd still rather stay with me than anything?"

"Yes, my Lord." I'm too much his, I couldn't leave. Maybe if he treated me really awful all the time or hit me or was into nasty shapechanging or something, then I bet I could. But not the way things are.

I have an awful lot to think about, and I wish I'd had a chance to do it before this talk, 'cause I think my perspective on everything just got changed.

"Speaking of names..."

"Topaz, my Lord."

"Before that."

It was almost amusing, and strangely reassuring: even in the middle of a conversation like this, his mage still made requests that were really commands. But that was all right; if that suddenly changed, he'd probably find it extremely disorienting. "Jax, my Lord."

"As wishes go, those ones are extremely reasonable. I rather doubt that almost five decades of habit are going to change overnight, but I'll try."

Privately, Topaz was fairly sure that things wouldn't really change all that much. He knew his mage too well by now to believe otherwise. But, well, he hadn't lost anything at all in this conversation, and maybe there'd be the odd small improvement, even if it was just Lord Andreas realizing now and then that he wasn't feeling overly receptive to shapechanging, or a few extra jobs to do. It was a treasure just to know that right now, Lord Andreas loved him enough to at least intend to do things differently. "No one else's master even tries, my Lord."

"I'm not entirely sure," Lord Andreas said dryly. "I'm beginning to see where these Donovans got their reputation. Hard to believe an Eldridge is just as bad as they are. I wonder if it's contagious or something in the air or the water. And we're going to be setting possibly the most dangerous of the bunch free to wreak havoc on mage society with nothing but observation, truth, and the willingness to speak up about it. Life is certainly interesting these days."

All in one day, I'm farther away from our house than I've been since I came to live there, had a reunion with Lila, read a book that rearranged my whole bloody worldview, and we just had this conversation, and you're telling me about interesting? "Yes, my Lord. It is."

"It's also late, and we have a lot to do tomorrow. How do you feel about bed?"

"It's been a long day, my Lord. But I haven't heard about how your talk went."

"The one with Van, or the one with Catherine? I think I'd put her at the head of the list of Van's competition as the most dangerous threat to mage society as it currently stands, she just hasn't really gotten started yet. I'll tell you about both of them, on the way upstairs."

"Yes, my Lord." Topaz took it as a hint, when Lord Andreas let go of him; he got up quickly, helped his Lord up from the couch, carefully. Sounded like Lila's Lady was... interesting. But that would suit Lila perfectly.

Listening to Lord Andreas think aloud to him, describing something and clarifying his own perception and evaluation of it at the same time, was familiar and rather soothing, and as always, he paid close attention, offering comments of his own now and then. A mage who could write something that could provoke a reaction like that in Lord Andreas was definitely dangerous, and one that needed to be free.