Drug use and addiction
Discussion of infidelity
With grandiose grumpiness guarding a grit-speck of grudging guilt, Evelyn led the way upstairs. She stomped, she grumbled, and she banged her walking stick against every step, entirely on purpose.
I trailed far behind, not brave enough to push into the flaming corona of Evelyn’s cold smoulder. Praem was unfettered by such concerns, close at Evelyn’s side with an implicit offer of assistance, though Evee rejected that with a wordless grunt. Praem kept her hands folded neatly in front of her skirt — ready at the slightest stumble to catch her wayward mother. Jan, the cause of all this, climbed the stairs between Evelyn and I. She held her chin high and her shoulders back, seemingly unaffected by either Evelyn’s silent rage or my cringing anxiety; then again, perhaps she had chosen the middle spot so she didn’t have to watch me using my tentacles to pull myself up the stairs against the reluctant drag of my feet.
Nobody else made an attempt to follow, not even Lozzie or July; some quality had combined in Jan’s words, in my slumped shoulders, and in Evelyn’s blaze-eyed anger, to ward off jokes and audiences alike. We all knew this was serious.
Which was why I wanted to run away.
We almost did run, once we reached the top of the stairs. The upstairs hallway was gloomy with the evening’s weight, a dead-fire glow visible on the horizon through the window. A little way down the corridor, Evelyn stomped to halt and banged the tip of her walking stick against a closed door.
“My study,” she snapped at Jan. “Private enough?”
Jan bobbed her messy little head in a tiny bow. “That will do nicely, thank you.” She turned and gestured with both hands, encompassing both of us. “Now, Evelyn, Heather, inside please, if you will? Praem—”
But Evelyn was already shoving the door open and stomping inside, with Praem sweeping along at her heels. She hadn’t even looked at me.
Jan’s smile was stretched like a mask of flesh. She repeated the gesture and said, “Heather, inside, please? I don’t want you running off, now. Please. Don’t make this any more of a nightmare than it already is.”
We tried to laugh, but managed only a flicker of nervous smile. “Ah. Right. You can tell, then.”
Jan raised her eyebrows. “That you want to run away? It was an educated guess. But, yes. Please don’t.”
“I wouldn’t have to run,” we said. Heart thudding. Palms sweaty. We did not want to confront any of this. Our tentacles were spread out wide, tips brushing the walls and floor and ceiling, like an octopus in a tunnel of rock, ready to jerk backward into the shadows. “I could step Outside. Go anywhere.”
Jan let out a little sigh; I wondered if the exasperation was real, or a show, or both. “Heather, if you do that, I will convince Lozzie to go fetch you back for us. There is no running away.”
The smile on my face twitched a little wider. “I think I could convince Lozzie to stay out there with me.”
“You’d be surprised.”
Jan gestured at the dim and shadowy doorway. We took a deep breath, reeled ourselves in, and wrapped myself in my tentacles. A true self-hug, now there were so many of us. And then I accepted Jan’s invitation.
I dearly loved that study; of course, I loved every part of Number 12 Barnslow Drive, even the places in the bathroom which were difficult to clean, the dusty corners of the cellar, the roof tiles so badly in need of replacement, and the ivy-eaten brickwork of an old and sagging face. But that study was special — and not just because I was a lifelong bookworm surrounded by a miniature private library, not just because this was the sort of safe haven and hidden retreat I had dreamed about as a child.
This was the place where I had first truly gotten to know Evelyn, where she had cried in front of me, and reattached her prosthetic leg, and told me who she really was.
History sat heavy in that room, on the twin sentinel-rows of tightly-packed shelves, on the ranks of jumbled books within, on old magazines shoulder-to-shoulder with hardback classics and modern pulp fiction and everything in between. Here there was no distinction between high and low literature, no false class of division between pages. At the far end of the study stood a lamp and the desk, a huge meaty slab of wood like something carved from a god of the forest, a single piece of foot-thick living tree. Notes and books were spread out over that desk even now, but had lain untouched for a few weeks. Oddly, a small stack of manga sat on top of the notes, less dusty than the rest. Had Evelyn emotionally and mentally moved all of her magical work downstairs, and finally given this space over to her person-hood?
Faint light spilled into the room from the single long, thin window, high up on the wall opposite the door. Sunset was almost dead, suffusing the space with gloomy orange, painting the walls and books with bloodish haze.
The study always seemed larger than it actually was, despite being only a single, rectangular room; one could stand at any spot on the old floorboards and see everything else in the room, peer into every nook and cranny. There was simply nowhere to hide except either side of the desk — a trick which Sevens had pulled on me, once. But the illusion persisted, the tickle in the back of the mind; imagination whispered that if one was to peek around the corner of any bookshelf, another entire wing would open up beyond, stacked with books, receding into the depths of the house.
That had never happened, not yet, but I found the notion comforting.
The study was a good place — in part because I had rescued Evee here once before, from the depths of her own self-loathing.
I doubted that was what she needed now, but I tried to take courage from that shared history.
Evelyn had already stomped deeper inside and turned around to face Jan and I as we followed her in. Praem dragged the ancient wooden swivel chair over from the desk, but Evelyn made no move to sit down. She just stood, hunched and heavy on her walking stick, blood-lit by the dying sun. She glared at Jan as the petite mage closed the door behind us with a soft click, her fingers brushing the brass handle.
Jan pressed her own back against the door, hung her head, and let out a most terrible sigh.
“Oh God,” she said.
We blinked at her in surprise. “Jan?”
Evelyn huffed. “What’s the matter with you now? You’re the one who’s forced us into this nonsense, Miss January.”
“Just Jan, please,” said Jan, in the most dead-end voice I’d ever heard. She stared at her own feet.
“Oh,” we said. “Oh, Jan. You’re exhausted.”
Jan raised her head and gave me an expert look in studied placidity. Her right eye twitched. Her voice came out sweet as lead paint. “Exhausted by terror, perhaps. Let’s say I’m holding it together in front of the troops, shall we? It’s been a long, long time since I’ve even contemplated going to war against another mage, and I make a very rusty general. This is — exquisitely — stressful. So, forgive me for relaxing a little in private. Understand me?”
Evelyn snorted. “Is that what this is about? You could have just asked for a moment’s privacy, you didn’t have to make up some excuse.”
Jan looked at Evelyn. Her left eye twitched. “No. I was being serious. You two really do need to talk this out. You’re in deep and I’m not strapping myself into the emotional diving suit to help you. You two are doing this yourselves. I’m not an agony aunt.”
Evelyn spat: “Talk what out? ‘Sapphic feud’, don’t be ridiculous, you sanctimonious little—”
I was stammering, actually stammering, the words caught in my throat, tentacles creaking and twitching: “It’s— it’s— it’s— it’s— n-n-nothing, we d-d-don’t need—”
Jan stood up from the door and raised her chin. In the strange blood-dark light she seemed more stark than usual, her black leggings and pleated skirt in deep contrast to the starched white of her shirt collar and cuffs. Her pale round face peered out from beneath a blood-black helmet of artfully messy hair. She looked at Praem.
“Stop,” Praem intoned, like the ringing of a tiny silver bell.
Evelyn and I both shut up. I hugged myself inside my tentacles, silently asking the house if she would please swallow me up between the floorboards. Evelyn glanced at Praem, tutting with the irritation of gentle betrayal.
“Who’s side are you on, anyway?” she hissed to Praem.
“Come off it,” Jan said, plain and reasonable, but a little sharp. She crossed her arms over her slender chest. “Both of you. Look, I don’t know what’s going on between you, and frankly I’m not sure I want to know, but it’s incredibly obvious that it’s a mess.” She gestured at Evee with a fingertip. “You’ve spent the entire afternoon avoiding even looking at Heather, and then when you do, you look at her like a piece of week-old chicken you’ve dragged out of the bottom of the fridge.”
I whined, squeezing my eyes shut. Part of me really did not want to know.
“And you!” Jan nodded at me in turn. “You may as well get down and roll around on the floor at Evee’s feet, you’re acting like a spurned puppy.” We gaped at her. Tentacles paused. Top right even turned her point to aim at Jan, as if offended. Jan sighed. “I’m amazed none of the others has pointed it out. Have you got them all trained to pretend not to see this? Look, I’m not having the core of your polycule arrangement fall apart in the middle of an operation—”
“Polycule arrangement? Core?” Evelyn snapped — but she was blushing. “Heather and I are not like that!”
“We’re— um— we— I don’t—”
“Could have fooled me,” Jan said with a teasing tut. “Whatever’s going on, I am not having it blow up — or implode, whichever — in the middle of this plan to entrap and kill Edward Lilburne. We’re not having battlefield confessions, or last-minute kisses before doomed charges, or any of that shit. That is a liability! I will not have it!” Perhaps it was my imagination, but Jan’s ire seemed to flow from bitter experience. “Either you two can work this out, here and now, or I am gone.” She thumbed over her shoulder. “I will take Lozzie and Tenny and run back to my home — my actual home, where you won’t find me in a million years. And you can do this without me. No romantic sub-plots in the middle of combat. Sort this out.” She sighed, forcing her frustration back into a bottle. “This isn’t a comic book. Kiss and make up first, then we go into battle.”
Evelyn stared at Jan. I stared at the floorboards. Jan stared at Evelyn. Praem stared at the wall. The sunset stared at the house. The house stared back.
We swallowed. We sweated. Our palms were moist. We squeezed ourselves so tight that the muscles inside our tentacles creaked.
Then Evelyn said, “Heather. Yes or no?”
We glanced up at Evee, eyes wide, but she was still fixed on Jan like she wanted to punch her.
“E-Evee?” I croaked. “What do you mean?”
“Yes or no,” she repeated. “You know what I mean. I insist. I’ll follow your lead.”
I’ll follow your lead.
Without those words, I would have said no. I would have fled, preferring not to know what Evelyn really thought of me, of us, of our new and changed and beautifully multiplicious state. But Evelyn Saye would follow my lead. She insisted.
“Then, yes!” we said.
At length, grumbling like a dying steam engine, Evelyn said to Jan: “This is none of your business.”
Jan gestured as if to put her face in one hand, then thought better of it. “Did you listen to nothing I said? If I’m consulting on fighting another mage, I think this very much is my—”
“No,” Evelyn said, with admirable control. “I mean fuck off.” She gestured at the door with the head of her walking stick. “Make yourself scarce. We’re not having this conversation with an audience.”
Jan raised her eyebrows, then nodded with relief. “All right then. Can I leave Praem in here with you, to make sure you two actually make up, rather than just conspire to pretend?”
“Yes,” I said — at the exact same moment Evelyn said: “No.”
We looked at each other. Praem turned her head and regarded her mother with those blank, milk-white eyes, dyed orange and bloody by the sunset glow. Seeing them next to each other, bathed in the reflected gloom-haze, made it more obvious than usual just how much Praem’s body was based on Evelyn’s own physique and facial structure. Healthier, unscarred, standing tall, but cut from the same pale stone.
I had named Evelyn’s daughter for her. What did that make us?
Evelyn cleared her throat and repeated: “No. I’m not comfortable discussing this in front of anybody, even you. I would … I might … self-edit. I’m sorry, Praem, but you’ll have to leave Heather and I to our own devices.”
Praem stared. Evelyn looked away. Jan sighed, and said: “Praem, you and I don’t actually know each other very well, but I have no choice here but to trust your judgement. Do you think they’ll actually … you know?”
Praem declined to answer. Instead she raised two fingers and touched Evelyn briefly on the elbow. Then she turned and crossed the room, to join Jan by the door.
“Let us leave,” Praem said, her voice a soft calling in the gloom.
Jan sighed. “Very well, demon maid.” She looked Praem up and down, at her casual clothes and distinct lack of her usual outfit. “Though, you’re not much of a maid right now, are you? How about we solve that? I’m sure I can help hook you up with some nice new threads, as the kids say these days.”
Praem opened the door and helped usher Jan and herself back out into the corridor, with Jan chattering about dresses and fabrics in an unexpected sudden flow. Praem shut the door after herself. Her clicking footsteps and Jan’s voice trailed off down the corridor; ah, I realised, the talking was to make it clear that she wasn’t eavesdropping.
And then we were alone — me, and six other of me, coiled inside my tentacles in their long stringy gristle-wrapped packages of pneuma-somatic neurons, wrapped around me to keep me from flying apart. Us, and Evee.
In the shadowy heart of the rapidly darkening study, Evelyn seemed so fragile and slender, despite her layers of puppy-fat and the soft bulk of her hips beneath her layers of comfortable clothing. She was wearing one of her favourite jumpers, a great heavy mass of cream white with repairs made at the collar and cuffs in slightly different coloured thread. A shawl — actually a little throw blanket — lay over her shoulders, despite the summer heat lingering into this dying evening. She had a skirt on, as usual, long and purple and thick and comfortable, some of the brightest colour I ever saw her wear, but she made no effort to conceal the matte-black intrusion of her prosthetic leg or the blade-structure of her artificial foot. Her shoulders were kinked, her good hand heavy on her walking stick, her blue eyes stained black in the blood-light. Her cheeks looked so soft. Her hair was pulled back, golden yellow gone dull.
Part of us wanted to go over and just hug her — but she looked at me like a woman about to be led to her own execution; I didn’t know what that expression really meant, only that she was—
“Evee,” we said. “Don’t be … afraid? Are you afraid?”
Evelyn took a big, grumpy sigh, then cast about the room. “There’s only one chair. Do you want it?”
“Pardon? Oh, um, no, thank you. You should take it. I can actually sit using my own tentacles, I think. I tried it out yesterday.”
“Of course you can.” She didn’t sound impressed.
I unwrapped two of my tentacles and braced them behind me, lowering myself until the weight was off my legs. “It’s not perfect, but we could hold this position for hours before getting tired. Um, Evee, please, please take the chair, please.”
“I’ll stand,” she said.
I hurried to stand up as well. I hadn’t felt this awkward and timid in months. Evelyn just stared at me, glum and unspeaking. Our throat threatened to close up. Why wouldn’t she say anything? I half reached toward her, feeling pathetic and needy, desperate for her reassurances.
“Evee, do you want … want to go … ”
Outside? Why was I even asking that? What was I thinking?
Evelyn sighed and closed her eyes briefly. “Heather, just spit it out. Jan is correct. I’m compromised. We need to fix this.”
“Fix?” The word sounded so hollow. “Like— like we’re two parts of a machine? Like we’re broken?” I shook my head. “Evee, what’s wrong? What’s going on between us? What … what did I do wrong?”
Evelyn stared and stared and stared. She opened her mouth but couldn’t get at the words. She had something to say, but she didn’t want to say it.
“Watching you bleed was … distressing. In the bathtub. And … earlier. And … ”
She squeezed the words out, barely parting her teeth. They weren’t the right words. She stared right through me as she said them. Not lies, but only one step removed.
“Evee, you’ve just asked me to do that all again, with this plan to teleport Edward’s house. That’s not it.” I shook my head. “I … I saw the way you looked at me earlier, at my tentacles. At … at us.” My voice almost choked to a stop. “You don’t … you don’t approve, do you? Y-you don’t have to say it yourself, I’ll say it for you. It was okay when you— when you didn’t have to see them every day, because they were hidden away, invisible. O-or maybe you don’t like that there’s six more of me now. Maybe you don’t like that. Maybe you think it’s wrong, or disgusting, or you think I’m ugly or insane or—”
Evelyn exploded: “You’re beautiful, you fucking moron!”
Red in the face, quivering with spitting rage, panting for breath so hard I thought she might slip on her walking stick and fall over, Evelyn shouted me into silence with five words, and nothing more. I had been balanced on the verge of tears, but they dried instantly; my distress was not the issue here. I had gotten this all wrong, all turned around somewhere inside my own head. Evelyn stood there in the gathering gloom, heaving for breath with a species of anger I’d never seen on her before. I was speechless.
“Look at you,” she carried on, still angry but no longer shouting. “You’re beautiful. You look so happy, Heather. I’ve never seen you as happy as you have been the last few days. I’ve seen you go through so much, so much, but never like this, never this happy. You look … complete? Almost complete? I don’t know! I don’t have the fucking words!”
I took a step toward her, reaching out with both hand and a tentacle. “E-Evee—”
She stumbled back a step, retreating from me, in fear. She spat, eyes staring wide: “And I’m jealous.”
I stopped. “Oh. Oh, Evee, I’m sorry—”
“No!” she snapped. “Don’t fucking well apologise to me! Don’t apologise to me for my own jealousy. It’s not yours.”
“ … alright. Okay. But it’s okay, Evee. It’s okay to feel that.”
“That’s easy for you to say.” She seemed like she was sinking into the shadows, into the depths of the house itself. The library was swallowing her up. “You’re getting what you want, what you need. Your body is changing, you’re remaking yourself, and you’re so fucking beautiful. But me? I want my leg back, Heather. I want the fingers on my left hand. I want my spine unbent and my shoulders set right. I want my bowels to function properly, and my sight to not be all fucked up. I want not to be in pain all the time. All the time.” She rose into another shout, a scream of frustration. “And it never fucking goes away!”
Silence, except for Evelyn’s panting. She looked away, ashamed, hanging her head, grimacing. I couldn’t find the words.
“Evee, I love you.”
“I know.” She huffed. “And I love you too. And I see you, like this, everything you wanted to be, everything you deserve to be, and I’m happy for you, yes. I’m happy for you. But I’m so, so, so fucking jealous. And it hurts. You get to have six other versions of you. Great. Good for you. I’m glad you’re happy. I had a demon in my head, and it left me a cripple.”
We were both crying now. Not a lot, but more than enough to blur the air between us.
“Evee. Evee, let me … ”
“I’m sorry, Heather. I’m sorry that I’m like this.” Evee’s voice was shaking. She backed up another step as I reached for her. “Being disabled isn’t something you get over, something that gets better, that you move on from. I thought I’d accepted this, but I hadn’t. I’m sorry that I’ll never get better, I’ll never change, I’ll never regrow my missing parts. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve researched and I’ve read and I can’t do it.” She raised her maimed hand, with the missing fingers and the chunk gone from the palm. “This? It’s too old and too much a part of me now. Did you know that? Wounds become a part of you. You can’t deny them. You can’t pretend they’re not there, or you … you stop being … I … I won’t!” She banged her walking stick against her prosthetic leg with a dull clunk of wood on carbon fibre. “I won’t stop being human! I will not be like my mother! I refuse! I—”
Middle Left arced out from my side — not upward, but around and across, presenting herself to Evelyn in pale rainbow strobes. An offer.
I could feel the bio-steel needle forming inside the tip, hardening with promise, hollowing to a thin point, the base thickening into those three alchemical bladders, preparing themselves to contain the distilled and purified essence of me. The tentacle quivered; we all quivered, with something akin to lust.
I said nothing. We couldn’t have spoken even if I had wanted to. I just stared and panted and cried softly.
Evelyn stared at the injector tentacle, at our offer. She knew what it was. She didn’t resist when we slid another tentacle gently up her opposite arm, finally stepping closer.
“Why—” she managed to choke out, cheeks stained with tears. “Why didn’t you ever offer this before?”
“You told me not to use it on humans. On people. You said not to.”
“I know that. But you could have done.”
The tip of the injector began to peel open, just a few millimetres at first, slick and delicate flesh rolling apart to reveal the soft white innards. Blood-dark sunset glinted off the needle inside.
“I will,” I said, my face wet with tears too. “If you want. I’ll try it, I’ll try anything. Maybe it’ll help your chronic pain, or maybe it—”
Evelyn took a great shuddering breath, sniffing hard — and shook her head. “Heather, stop.”
“Heather. Heather, listen.” Evelyn had to close her eyes, as if seeing the offer might break her resolve. “Stop tempting me. That injection is just as likely to give me rapid super-cancer as it is to regrow my bloody leg. And it won’t. It won’t regrow anything.” She sniffed harder now, but her tears were slowing. “I wasn’t joking when I said I’ve researched everything I can. It can’t be done. Just, stop. Please.”
“I can help.”
Evelyn gritted her teeth. “I insist.”
With a great force of will, I closed the tip of the injector tentacle. It was not easy. Instinct was screaming at me to join together with Evee, to flood her with me, with my enzymes and juices and white blood cells, with the alchemical purity of the abyssal thing I was. It was half sexual desire, half something from elsewhere, meat-body urges mated together with transcendent knowledge. I had to take several grunting, heaving breaths.
“Evee, I—I really want to.”
“I can see that.”
“Sorry … ” we lowered the tentacle, and went to pull away.
But Evelyn clung on with her other arm. She clung onto my tentacle, with what little strength she had.
“I didn’t say let go of me,” she said. “For fuck’s sake, Heather. Gods, I must sit down or I’m going to fall. And what are we doing, doing this in the dark? Get the bloody light on, will you? Feel like I’m going blind as well as mad.”
We managed a tiny laugh; Evelyn snorted too, wiping the drying tears from her eyes. This was going to be okay, we were going to be okay, one way or another.
Evelyn finally sat down in the aged wooden embrace of the old swivel chair, slowly and gently easing her weight off her walking stick, letting out a soft grunt of spinal pain; the chair suited her, a battered relic from the fifties or sixties, wrapped in decades of wood polish and peeling varnish over the dark bones of a long-dead tree. It was worn and eroded by time and use, but sturdy in its core. With care and attention, that chair might last another seventy years. Evelyn sighed as she relaxed back into the seat. She propped her walking stick against the armrest and stretched out her prosthetic leg, massaging the place where the socket met her thigh.
We reached over and flicked on the lights, angling the desk lamp upward to spread soft warmth over the wall and ceiling and back down on Evelyn and myself. The gloom retreated to the corners where it belonged, far from my Evelyn’s heart.
I sat next to her, using the same tentacle-trick I had demonstrated earlier. But we also kept one tentacle tightly hugged around Evee’s arm, cradling her maimed hand with the tip. None of us wanted to risk letting go.
For a few moments we just sat in companionable silence, watched by the rows upon rows of books. Evelyn’s eyes fluttered shut. I could tell she was concentrating on pain. I watched the tiny motions of her lips and eyelids, her tightening jaw muscles, her suppressed wince. I almost reached out to brush a strand of golden blonde from her forehead.
“Why are we always such a mess, Heather? Hm?”
I shrugged. “I think everybody is a mess. Sort of.”
Evelyn opened her eyes again. The lamplight turned her skin to pale cream and her eyes to blue skies. “Be a dear, will you, and check the desk drawer — second drawer on the left. I think I’ve got some co-codamol stuffed down there.”
We reached over with a tentacle without getting up. The old desk drawers were thick and heavy, great slabs of wood held together by nails the size of my hand. Evelyn was correct: there was a small bottle of over-the-counter codeine and paracetamol at the back of the drawer, tucked behind rubber bands and paper-clips and some dusty old files. We fished it out and dropped it into Evee’s hand.
Evelyn squinted at the use by date, grunted an affirmative, then shook two tiny white pills out onto her palm. She swallowed them without water.
“I wish you didn’t have to do that,” we said. “Rely on painkillers, I mean. You deserve better.”
Evelyn’s turn to shrug, shoulders uneven. “Plenty of people do. Painkillers are just a fact of life. There’s nothing shameful in it.”
“Of course there’s not!” we blurted out. “We didn’t mean that. I just … I’ve always wondered … Evee, are you addicted to codeine? To opiate painkillers?”
Evelyn sighed heavily, but she seemed more exhausted than irritated. “Not currently.”
“Not … currently?”
“I’ve been physiologically addicted to codeine before, yes. Never for more than a few months at a time.” Evelyn spoke to the floorboards and the far wall, to the books and the shadows, but she didn’t seem ashamed, which was probably a good sign. “My body gets used to it, but the pain doesn’t go away. Can you call that an addiction? An addiction to not feeling pain? Ha.” She spoke the laugh, without any humour. “I think … six, seven times, maybe? Last time was when Raine and I first came to Sharrowford. Got too stressed, too much walking back and forth to campus, too worried to relax. My leg and lower back got terrible. Back pain is a bastard. Raine put a stop to it by taking my pills and getting me some edibles from the university campus instead. Can you believe that?”
“Edibles?” I asked, blinking.
Evelyn glanced at me, then smiled and snorted. “The more you change, the more you become yourself, Heather.”
I felt quite bamboozled. “Um, okay? Shall I take that as a compliment?”
“It’s meant as one, so, hopefully.”
“What do you mean, edibles?” I asked.
“Weed brownies. THC. Cannabis.”
“Oh!” I flushed, feeling absurdly sheltered. “Oh, I knew that. Evee, I knew that. It’s just the word wasn’t going in, it wasn’t parsing.”
“Whatever you say.”
“I mean it.” We huffed, but the embarrassment faded quickly. “I can’t really imagine you high on cannabis, Evee. Was it very relaxing?”
She shrugged again, rolling those bony shoulders beneath the soft enclosure of her ribbed jumper. To my surprise, she reached up with both hands and let her hair down, raking her fingertips back over her scalp. When she twisted her neck, the vertebrae popped, loudly. The soft light made her glow. “It helped the pain go away,” she said. “That’s all that mattered. Made me lie down a lot, I suppose. I watched a lot of very bad anime. Lowered my standards.”
Evelyn waved that question away. “You wouldn’t know the titles.”
Evelyn shot me a scrunched frown, then rattled off a lot of Japanese which I didn’t understand. Then she paused. “No?”
I cleared my throat, suitably chastised. “Fair enough, we don’t recognise any of those.”
“Count yourself lucky, then. Trust me.”
“So, have you been partaking of any of Kimberly’s cannabis, since she moved in?”
Evelyn shook her head. “Haven’t needed it. Not yet, anyway.” She glanced down at the pill bottle in her hand, tightening her fingers around the innocent white plastic. “I’ve got a stash of diazepam downstairs, for when things get really bad. And … I started taking more painkillers back after I … after our … the … ”
She couldn’t squeeze the words out.
“After you spent the night with Twil,” I filled in for her, to spare her the embarrassment. “Back when we were making those trips into the library of Carcosa.”
Evelyn sighed so hard that she grumbled at the same time. “Correct. We never really talked about that, did we?”
“We don’t have to!” I hurried to add. “Evee, we absolutely don’t have to talk about it if you’re not comfortable. I-I didn’t mean for this to get so serious again, I … sorry.”
Evelyn raised her eyes and looked at us, but she was calm, not embarrassed. “What’s to talk about? Twil and I very much failed to fuck. I have anorgasmia. We ended things. That’s about it. What more is there to say?”
I felt a blush rising up my face, half embarrassment, half fear — because here was the question we had avoided thinking about for days and days, here was the little fact I was trying to avoid.
“You slept with Twil again, didn’t you?” I asked. The words almost wouldn’t come out, but I forced my voice to be level and calm. My tentacles betrayed us, going tense and tight. “On the night before I did the tentacle experiment and went into the dream.”
“Mm,” Evelyn confirmed. “We slept. Literally. In my bed, holding hands.” She shrugged. “It was nice, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry I spent so long pushing you two together.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Heather, don’t be.”
I swallowed, feeling intensely awkward. “Do you still like her, or … ?”
Evelyn cast her eyes up toward the thin window on the blooming night beyond the house. “I don’t know, Heather. I don’t know what that emotional state means. She likes me, which is … pleasant. She’s … physically … impressive. But we’re not … we don’t … ”
She trailed off, gave up, and went silent. I nodded, as did several of my tentacles. We understood, or at least pretended to.
“Anyway,” she said eventually with a little sigh. “I started taking more painkillers after that. But Praem restricted my intake. She halted the usual slide. And I’m not going to be lighting up any of Kimberly’s stash, because I need a sharp mind for this … this war. I cannot afford to wallow in my broken body. Not yet.”
“Evee,” we said, so filled with gentle reproach that Evelyn actually looked round with a guilty flinch in her eyes. “Evee, Evelyn, you are not broken.”
“I am,” she said. “You don’t have to sugar coat it, Heather. My body is a wreck and I will never repair it.”
We had no words to respond to that; if we’d tried, we would have started crying again. Instead, I did the only thing which made any sense: I raised Evelyn’s maimed hand with the tentacle wrapped around her arm. I asked her for permission with a silent glance. She didn’t refuse, so I cupped her hand in my own human pair.
Evelyn’s left hand was half gone. Her thumb and index finger were fully intact, but her middle finger was severed at the top knuckle, her ring finger was a stub, and her little finger was entirely missing, along with a large chunk of that side of her palm. The wound was smooth scar tissue, bones buried deeply beneath once-mangled flesh. I cradled her hand in my own, and stared, and thought.
The human hand is a beautiful thing, as complex and elegant and perfect as any tentacle. So many little bones and tendons and pads of cartilage, all working together for such delicate dexterity, such precision, such infinite variation of position and pose and posture. Hands can talk, can carry meaning, can create. If I believed in a divine creator — and I don’t, not really, though I don’t have all the answers — then the human hand would be easy evidence for the divinity of nature itself.
And Evelyn’s hand was no different, even reduced, even halved. Her palm was so soft, her thumb neat and slender, the pad of her index finger smooth and yielding.
“H-Heather … ” she stammered as I explored.
I stopped, concerned. “It doesn’t hurt, does it?”
Evelyn was flushed in the face, staring at me with a strange frown. “No. Well. Don’t push on the bone nub inside the palm. But otherwise, no.”
I returned to my thoughts — and our preliminary examination.
Could we do an angel’s work, and regrow a finger? Even one knuckle would be a small miracle. This was, in a way, more complex and difficult than ripping Sarika’s body back out of the Eye, or growing my own pneuma-somatic parts from my abyssal template. Evelyn’s body had been scarred and damaged for so long that it was part of her physical self-image, part of how she thought of herself, part of her history and being, imprinted on the mathematical substrate of reality. Brain-math could do anything, in theory. But in practice, I might only damage her further.
But if not with brain-math?
A tentacle-tip twitched with the memory of a needle.
“Heather,” Evelyn breathed, with obvious difficulty. “Heather, I appreciate the efforts you want to make, but I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I researched everything I could imagine. There’s no fixing my body with magic. I have accepted that. You don’t have to think about this.”
I whispered, barely listening: “I could make you new fingers. A prosthetic? An addition? I don’t know.”
“What’s the point in being what we are, if we can’t help you?”
“Heather, it’s not necessary, it—”
Before Evelyn could pull away, we raised her hand to our own lowering lips. And before we could think about what we were doing, we kissed her on the palm.
A brief, feathery touch, a brush, that was all.
But when we looked up, Evelyn was staring back like a deer in headlights, panting softly, cheeks flushed. She was frozen, waiting for me to make the next move, as if uncertain which way we were about to fall.
Before courage left and embarrassment drowned affection, I managed to say: “Your scarred hand is just as beautiful as my tentacles.”
Evelyn nodded, stiff and awkward.
I let her go, straightening up and blushing bright red myself. Where had that courage come from? My tentacles knew. Four of the other Heathers were bobbing and weaving and ducking and bouncing, my very own portable peanut gallery, but also me at the same time; it was so different to before, this tug between mortified embarrassment and amusement at myself, as if I had more access to my own emotions than before. They all wanted to kiss Evelyn’s hand too, and they were far less embarrassed by being watched or discovered. And in a way, they had kissed her, through me, who was also them.
Evelyn didn’t snatch her hand back, or wipe the kiss away; if she had, I think we would have been crushed. She just stared at her palm, then at me — then at the rest of me, our tentacles in a flailing ring. She sighed gently, regaining some composure as my own self-consciousness flared into paralysis.
“Heather,” she said, sighing.
“I … Evee … you … you’re not bothered by the whole ‘six other Heathers’ thing, truly?”
Evelyn blinked in surprise; she hadn’t been expecting that question. Honestly, neither had we. I was deflecting a little, though the question was a genuine concern.
“Why would I be?” she asked. “They’re all you, right?”
“Well … yes … but … ”
“Do they have different names? Temperaments? Personalities?” She shook her head. “If they do, tell me. I mean, if you do. I’m serious, Heather.” She waited a moment, waiting for a genuine answer.
“Not … not really,” I said. “They’re all me. I’m still me. We’re all still me. Us.”
Evelyn sighed and nodded. “Whatever is going on inside your mind is almost certainly not medically classifiable as ‘dissociative identity disorder’.” Evelyn all but spat those words, mocking them with two-fingered air quotes from her good hand. “God, I hate that term. I suspect you do too, hmm?” I smiled, just a nervous flicker. Evelyn snorted in agreement. “You have six additional chains of neurons, six extra brains, and they’re all you.” She paused awkwardly, then swallowed and looked away. “Heather, I know what it’s like to have another entity inside my own head.”
“You do, yes. I was concerned about that.”
Evelyn sighed. “The demon my mother put in my body when I was a child, it was an invasive entity. A violation. A … prisoner as much as I was.”
“You ended up working together with it, didn’t you?”
“Mmhmm.” Evelyn nodded, speaking in a contemplative tone. “It wanted my mother dead, too. It wanted freedom. We had an arrangement. But it was nothing like what you’re experiencing, I can guarantee you that. You’ve been multiplied, spread out, given more space. I was crammed into half my own skull. What’s happening to you is obviously liberating and healthy. I’m not disgusted by it. How could I ever be disgusted by more of you?”
I smiled through a veil of thin tears, then sniffed and wiped my eyes. “I was so scared you were … that you thought I was vile or … or wrong, or deluded, or something like that.”
Evelyn sighed. She awkwardly patted my arm. From her, that was practically a confession of undying devotion.
I took a moment to calm down. We felt a lot better now. But we hadn’t actually done as Jan had asked, had we?
Any other time or place, the next move would have felt like a push, a trial, a terrible risk. But here, in the aftermath of shared pain and understanding, nestled deep in the heart of the house, between towering bookshelves and solid walls and the soft light on the ceiling, it came naturally. We were already there, after all. We both knew.
Still, we could have done with a lemon or two before saying the words out loud.
I said: “We’re in love with each other, aren’t we, Evee? We both know it, we just don’t talk about it.”
To my incredible surprise — and more than a little amusement and relief — Evelyn didn’t blush or stammer or stare or do anything so un-Evee like. She sighed a great big sigh, slumped a little in her chair, and rolled her eyes.
“Define ‘love’,” she grunted.
I actually giggled. “Evee, you know what I’m talking about.”
“Oh, really? Do I? Where’s the line between friendship and relationship then, hmm? If we … ” She paused, staring at me — at my lips. Then she cleared her throat. “If we started snogging—”
“Snogging?!” we spluttered. “Evee, you’re as bad as Raine, sometimes.”
“If we started kissing,” she spoke louder. “Does that end our friendship and start something new? Or are we friends, who kiss? Where’s the line, Heather? I’m serious, because I don’t know where the fuck the line was with Twil.”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
That pole-axed her. And me, too, after I realised what I had said. I stammered and stuttered for a moment, tentacles coiling and flexing like uncomfortable toes. We were all mortified.
Evelyn recovered first, burning in the face like a hot coal.
“Yes!” she said. “Yes. Alright? Yes. Of course.”
I nodded. And wet my lips. But then Evee gave me a frown.
“But what would it mean, Heather?” she asked. “I’m trying to explain this and I’m struggling. We’re not just … we’re not just experiencing the lesbian sheep problem here. This isn’t something so simple.”
We blinked at her, lost. “Lesbian sheep problem?”
Evelyn stared, then sighed and put her face in one hand. “Heather, sometimes you’re just too much to be real.”
“The lesbian sheep problem.” Evelyn switched into school mistress mode, sitting up a little and looking at me over the rims of an entirely imaginary pair of glasses. “When female sheep are sexually available, they show their interest by standing still, waiting to get mounted. So in theory, a pair of lesbian sheep would just stand next to each other, waiting, forever.”
I pulled a very sceptical frown. “Is that really true? It sounds like a convenient myth. People aren’t sheep, Evee.”
“Exactly, it’s a useful metaphor. Heather, I’m trying to say that we’re experiencing more than that. Or less than that. Or, oh fuck, I don’t know.”
We couldn’t help it, we smirked.
Here it was, the truth of what lay between Evelyn and us, and it was the same thing that had been there all along. This was no confession of something hidden, no revelation which redefined our relationship, no moment of great change. We were already what we were, she and I.
“Would you be disappointed?” I asked. “If we never kissed?”
Evelyn shot me a frown. “Would you be disappointed if you could never make me—” Evelyn bit down hard on that final word. She didn’t want to go there. But I just silently shook my head, blushing terribly. Evelyn drew in a deep breath and tried to push on. “Heather, my point is that I don’t know what I want. Or rather, what I want isn’t … normal. Traditional? I don’t know!”
“Whatever you want is fine, Evee,” we said, and we meant it. “Look at me and Raine, look at what we do. I’ve got … several girlfriends, I suppose. In a whole range of … variations?” I pulled a grimace. “Poor choice of words, perhaps.”
Evelyn snorted. “You make it sound like a harem anime.”
“But it’s not! No, really. What I have with Raine is completely different to what I have with Zheng. Or with Sevens. You’re important to me, Evee. And I love you. And whatever form that takes, it’ll be different. And I think I’ve learned that’s okay.”
Evelyn frowned at me; my words didn’t quite seem to reach her. She disagreed somewhere, with something I couldn’t put my finger on.
So I said, “Raine would be okay with it. I know that. If you wanted to kiss me, she would approve.”
Evelyn stared. Something dark shifted inside her eyes.
“I’ve been jealous of Raine since I first met her,” Evelyn said, quietly. “Don’t get me wrong, I love her too. I’d be dead without her. But look at her. Confident, strong, fit. She can pick you up and throw you onto the fucking bed if she wants to. She can carry you. Pin you. Anything she likes.”
“She … she can, yes. Evee, you shouldn’t compare yourself.”
“I don’t want her to be okay with it.”
“If I was to kiss you. I don’t want her to be okay with it. I want to steal you.”
Evelyn was deadly serious, white-faced and calm. My turn to blush. Tentacles, coiling inward as if to protect me from an attack. My mouth went dry. My heart hammered.
Then Evelyn let out a huge sigh and looked away. The spell broke. “I told you I was a bitter mess, Heather. I told you.”
“What if … ” I tried to speak once, then had to swallow and try again. My hands were shaking. We were all shaking, a little. “What if we kiss, and don’t tell anybody?”
Evelyn frowned, suddenly hard as granite. “That’s a dangerous game, Heather. I’m not going to cuckold Raine. No.”
We stared at each other for a long, silent moment. Evelyn’s throat bobbed. She wet her lips, perhaps subconsciously. I tried to slow my racing heart.
What the hell was I suggesting?
There was no way we could actually go behind Raine’s back. I was incapable of such a thing. The guilt would eat us alive. But Raine had practically offered me to Evee, once before. Half a jest, but half-real at the same time. If Evelyn desired something secret, something hers alone, perhaps we had already received permission, by proxy? My imagination began to spin up a half-baked idea of asking Raine to approve, but pretend she knew nothing — but then I would have to lie to Evelyn, wouldn’t I? And Evelyn wasn’t even sure what she wanted, what she desired. And here I was stuck in the middle.
While we stared at each other, Evee and I, we became aware that interruption was approaching, loudly.
The intruder made her approach obvious, walking down the upstairs hallway with heavy steps, so as not to surprise us. And I would recognise those footsteps anywhere.
“Speak of the devil,” Evelyn huffed, pulling away from me slightly, as if guilty. She looked round just before a knock sounded on the door of the study.
Raine called through the wooden door. ““Hey there, love-birds! You decent in there?”
“Raine!” I spluttered.
“No,” Evelyn drawled, absolutely deadpan. “We’re both stark naked and covered in honey. Come retrieve your wife.”
“Wife?!” we spluttered at Evee, too.
Raine burst through the door with a shit-eating grin on her face, then mimed disappointment when Evelyn and we were fully clothed and not in fact glazed with sugar. But then she raised her eyebrows in a hopeful look.
“You two patched things up? Heeeeeey, I can tell.” She wandered closer, her eyes looking down at our necks, for some reason. “I don’t see no hickeys so it can’t be over yet.”
Evelyn sighed and rolled her eyes. “When I leave my mark, I’ll make it obvious.”
“E-Evee?” we said, mouth going very dry again.
Raine nodded. “I look forward to seeing your handiwork, Evee. Hey there you,” she said to us, casually wrapping her arm in one tentacle. “You know, jokes aside, I can tell you’re both feeling much better. So did you actually fuck, or what?”
“Raine,” I sighed, flushed beet red. Did she know? Had she been listening? Could she tell?
“Spare us your wit,” Evelyn drawled. “Something changed, I take it?”
Raine nodded. “Big sorry to interrupt like this, but I’ve just struck gold. Jan and Fliss both agreed, gotta come tell you.”
Evelyn sharpened all of a sudden. “What gold? What are you talking about?”
Raine raised her mobile phone in one hand, grinning wide and wiggling it back and forth. “Gold, right here. I had a brainwave, see? Took a little picture of the snapshot of Eddy’s house, his sigil, ‘cos I thought, hey, who else do we know who knows a little magic, who might be able to identify something that we can’t?”
Evelyn shook her head, mystified. “Stop with the theatrics, Raine. Get on with it.”
But we knew. We said it before Raine could.
“What?” said Evelyn.
“Ding ding ding!” Raine blew me a kiss. “‘Cos it’s not just a sigil, see? That’s why even with four mages down there, none of you could see it. Our boy Nathan doesn’t recognise the magic — but he absolutely recognises the maths.”
Evelyn sat up, grabbed her walking stick, eyes alight with inner fire as she prepared to launch herself out of the chair. “He what? Mathematics? Get him over here, now. Or me, there. I want to talk to him. Now! What did he say? Raine, what do you mean he recognises the maths? What are you saying?”
Raine laughed. “Hold your horses. He’s already on his way. Well, Fliss has gone to pick him up.”
Evelyn looked about ready to leap out of her chair and hurl herself downstairs. I had the strange notion that she would happily drag me after her.
But there was nothing to do, not until Badger got here.
And I still had one unfinished thought.
“Raine,” I said. “I need your help with something.”
Evelyn frowned at me. “Heather, what now? I think this takes precedence!”
“Anything you want,” said Raine. She shot me a wink.
I nodded, raising a tentacle as I began to consider the mechanics. “I’m going to make Evelyn a prosthetic, if she’ll consent to the attempt. I’m going to use part of my own body. You may need to carry me to bed afterward, because I don’t know how much this is going to hurt.”
Heather was so wrapped up in herself (literally??? tentacles are good for that) that she didn’t realise what was really going on with Evee. At least they finally talked about being in love with each other! But perhaps Evelyn’s desires are more intense than Heather can deal with? Though … Heather made some risky suggestions there too. I wonder what Raine would think? Maybe a little bird told her all about it, and that’s the real reason she interrupted?
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Next week, it’s … Badger?! Mathematician to the rescue! It’s been a bit since we’ve seen him, but perhaps he can provide some rare insight. An edge against Edward? And then it’s time to fight a mage, no more plans, no more prep. Right?
Finally! These two I swear!
Thanks for the chapter, amazing as always!
They are finally having a proper conversation about their relationship! Sort of!
And you are so very welcome, thank you so much for reading; glad you enjoyed the chapter!
Well, that’s an alarming statement.
Heather may be jumping the gun here, in more ways than one!
JSHjdurhd! EVELYN X HEATHER! Sort of, I can’t help but feel they have so much farther to go. Please stop playing with my heart, I’m not sure how much more I can take.
Aaah, I love watching moments like these between Heather and Evelyn, although it is a shame it never progresses. Always stops just short of going anywhere. Damn.
It’s cute how much of top Evelyn is in life, but clearly a bottom to Top Heather in relationships. ( At least until Heather’s embarrassment surfaces and reverts her back to Bottom Heather.)
HEATHER X EVELYN!
Eeeee, I’ve been dying in anticipation for Heather to help Evelyn in some fashion or another. Shame that she can’t or won’t use the brainmath or her sex tentacle to do it, but I understand. It would kind of be a deus ex machina. What does that say about me as an author if I would have done it anyway?
Question, have you ever considered doing an 18+. Chapter involving Heather and a member of her Poly? ( Raine!) The constant tentacle play mentions are such a tease, hahaha!
Thank you for the chapter.
Evee x Heather! They finally talked about it, yes, but this is certainly not the end-point of their development, indeed!
Well, this time they at least confirmed what they both want, or what they’re willing to do. It’s more like they’re stuck at an awkward impasse because Evee is perhaps not so much a fan of the polycyle thing/uncertain about her own sexual desires. Evee’s own top/bottom status is … complex!
Heather really really wants to help Evelyn physically, with prosthetics, or pain relief, or anything at all. But … Heather needs to ask her permission first. Perhaps Evee needs time to think it over.
I actually made a decision never to do an 18+ chapter/scene for Katalepsis. I’ve written a lot of erotica before and I have zero problem with it, but I feel like doing it for this story would be kind of awkward. There’s plenty of 18+ fanfic, and I’m glad for that, but I probably won’t be doing it myself.
And you are very welcome for the chapter! Glad you enjoyed it!
Thank you for replying. 🙂
You’re always very welcome!
… wait, you can’t say that and then *not* put a link to your author bio or the like, that might happen to then lead to unrelated-to-Katalepsis erotica!
Haha, thank you for the interest! But sadly all my erotica writing was many years ago now, and absolutely not of high enough quality to share online. Not to say that I won’t ever write more in the future – I sort of want to, some time – but sadly the older stuff will have to remain secret for now. Unless I rework some of it. Hm.
I think there’s one thing missing.
Evee talks about “being human” and “being like her mother” like they are the only two options, when there are multiple people in the house right now that are living proof that’s not the case.
That might be something she could eventually get over.
Also just because all the ways she has seen so far that could allow her to alter herself are inacceptable to her certainly doesn’t mean that all existing ways are. I fully belive that she has found some terrible ways towards a fogm of change or transcendance in her mother’s research, but Saye Senior is god knows not the only mage in the multiverse.
She’s actually pretty typical for an early-20s studenh, thinking she already knows all there is to know, she has already seen all the ways she can take.
Most people are wrong about that.
“She’s actually pretty typical for an early-20s student, thinking she already knows all there is to know, she has already seen all the ways she can take.”
Exactly! Evee is surrounded by non-humans, post-humans, humans who have stopped being human, and many of them are her loved ones, even accepted parts of her family now. Yet what she accepts and encourages and cherishes in others, she is refusing to accept for herself. Almost like she believes she doesn’t deserve it, or when it’s her it’s wrong somehow. You’ve pointed out something absolutely core to Evelyn there.
“became aware that interruption”
I think there might be a word missing between “that” and “interruption”?
“door. ““Hey there”
Remove extra open quotation marks
Oops! Thanks for spotting both of those typos and errors! Much appreciated!