By Necessity: Vigil
``How's she doing?'' Sean stood by the door with his arms crossed, gazing out into the air at an array of AR readouts. His brow furrowed at the bunny girl as she walked out of the apartment with a heavy bag slung over her shoulder.
Kanina looked up and narrowed her eyes a bit. Her neck fur bristling a little. ``Out of it. Same as last week. I took some time to tweak her Avi's security features. She just kinda... sat there. I think she got sick of me dodging things.''
``Yeah. I won't lie. I'm getting pretty sick of it myself. I think I'm going with her to Dr. Naomi's next time to talk this out. I'm starting to think that this whole `ease her into it' idea of mine was pretty stupid.''
``It was. So why did you do it?'' Kanina muttered as she finished securing her pack and gave it a good heft.
``Because she was barely eating when we got her back. She still doesn't even leave her room half the time. I just. I don't know. Mother always said to just let people have space and they'd start to mend. Granted I think that she took things a bit too far on that front.'' He watched Kanina roll her eyes and mutter something undoubtedly foul in ganger cant. Those red eyes returning to him full of frustrated exhaustion.
``Look, Not to commit high treason after playing the hero or anything, but maybe it'd be a good idea to ignore momma bear just this once and open up to her. Because I'm about ready to myself. It's one thing if she doesn't know the shit I went though but Woz damn it I can't keep bullshitting about where I was the past two weeks.''
``She's not a... You know she's not a bear, Right?'' Sean muttered.
``It's a figure of speech.'' Kanina sighed.
``Oh, right.'' He blinked a few times and then shook the confusion off glancing back down at Kanina as he put a hand on her shoulder. A cold glair quickly telling him to take it off. ``Look I'll go with her to Dr. Naomi at the end of the week and talk to her about it. If she oks it, then we tell her. Sound fair?''
Kanina scoffed and put her leg on the wall to start stretching it out. Her heel somehow managing to get up mid way past her ears. Something Sean couldn't help but smirk at.
``You can't tell me you're running.'' He scoffed.
She shook her head a moment and growled loudly. ``You really think it matters what some shrink has to say? Bri already gives her way too much consideration you know. Bad enough she's got everyone else around her trying to triple check every move she makes.''
``Do I really even need to comment?'' The urge to bring up Kanina's little ordeal churned like metal shavings in his gut. Sean bit back on a few snickers and perked his ears up while giving the purple bunny a once over, His grin going a bit lopsided.
The only response he got was a sudden shift on heel from Kanina as she finished her stretches and gave her tail a condescending little flick in his direction. It took her less than a minute to make it out of the hallway, and not so coincidentally out of Sean's tracking range.
``Well, time for my shift.'' He muttered. Even as the question of how good it was to keep Bri under this kind of `watch' started to gnaw at him. Kani was right about one thing. Sooner or later, Bri would have to know.
Between the near constant flow of people in and out of their home along with the fact that Lord Thaneson had generously provided for both herself and her husband, Kerri was still trying to figure out if this was some huge fever dream. It was easy enough to imagine herself passed out on the floor with her spray gun strapped to her wrist. People struggling to get her up from CPR after a filter popped and she got a lung full of paint fumes.
Then again, she almost kinda wished it was a dream. When she'd put that personal Ad up on My Collar, Kerri had hoped that she and her husband were giving their girl a shot at a better life. At a future. In a way they had, too. Somehow they had beaten the odds. Brinna not only had a suitor, but a wealthy one. A powerful one. One who had actually decided to help them out as well rather than taking their child to be another trinket in a harem. It was more than they could have hoped for.
And then the Officers attacked her. And then those people kidnapped her.
Kerri stood at the edge of her daughters room looking in. Brinna was curled up under every blanket she owned and a few that normally stayed on Kerris bed. The top of her head and tail of her plush toy were the only things poking out from under the covers. The tray of cheese crackers and bottle of water that had been left out were finally finished. Hardly enough to fill a young girl up even by their meager standards. Not to mention the smell. The girl and her bedding both needed a wash badly. The whole situation was growing painfully reminiscent of the attack the year before.
``Hey Bri? You up, sweetie?'' Kerri leaned in a bit and watched for any signs of recognition. A few ear twitches, a bit of a shift. Ultimately nothing more than the signs of a sound sleeper. Kerri sighed and pulled a few strands of her graying hair from her face, pacing into the room and sitting at the corner of the bed with a hand resting on the lump of Bri's tail. ``Sweetie, you gotta get up. You're sleeping way too long. It's not healthy for you.''
The mouse girl stirred a bit and twisted herself around. Big brown doe eyes hazed over with sleep as she pulled her eyelids apart. Brinna rolled over on to her back and fumbled for her glasses rather impotently. The arms poking at her ears as she fumbled them on to her face.
``Mom? What time is it?'' She muttered softly.
``Time to get up, silly goose.'' Kerri chuckled ``You know It's not fair of you to sleep all day like this. Lord Thaneson came by to keep an eye on you. He ended up stuck with your father the whole time he was here.''
``Oh.'' Brinna muttered. ``W-wait. Where is Daddy?''
``Out.'' Kerri shrugged. ``He went to get a drink and see the end of the game before his shift. I don't think he took too kindly to your owners clear lack of interest in Rugby. Though Brigid bless him the poor boy tried.''
Bri tried as hard as she could not to smirk at that image. Her poor Master, enduring the long drawn out explanations of why the Griffons had the absolute best offense on the station. Rattling off the names of players nobody could possibly know from two decades back. She looked up at her mother and forced herself to don an aloof frown once more. It didn't hold.
``Well maybe next time he comes I'll get up then. That does kind of seem unfair.'' Bri muttered softly. ``I mean at least with you, he-''
``Would be forced to listen to me talk about my horrible taste in comedy Holos? Sweetie the only reason you like them is I made you watch them with me since you were little. I hate to tell you but a bunch of people in an apartment making terrible jokes isn't really the compelling viewing most people are looking for.''
``Lies. All lies.'' Brinna giggled again. ``Still I'm, sorry I'm being like this. Dr. Naomi actually said she wanted to see about putting me on meds, though I guess that would mean we'd need to get a med printer in the bathroom. I don't know if we have room for it though.''
A few tears rolled down Kerris cheek. She laughed to herself and sighed softly pulling Bri in nice and close. ``You just let us worry about that, ok sweetie? None of this is your fault. You're safe now and that's all that matters, right?''
``I guess so. Yeah.'' Brinna nodded.
``Besides I think a big part of your problem is just that you haven't had anything to keep you occupied.''
``Well, I mean, Kanina keeps trying. Every time she comes over she wants to tweak my Avi in some new way or drag me into a game. Master keeps saying he's got something in store too, but it seems like most of the times he's here I'm asleep and he just... doesn't want to wake me.''
The older dormouse chuckled and ruffled the massive mop of hair her daughter sported. ``Well yeah. I can understand he doesn't want to push you. But then sometimes a little push isn't a bad thing now is it?. Here, one sec.'' Kerri slipped out of the room and came back a moment later with a small box. She popped the thing open and set it down before Bri, sitting beside her child and wrapping an arm around her. ``Some girl named Tabatha came by to deliver it. Said she was in your class.''
``Really? Tabatha? Wow. I didn't think a Class 2 would come down here.'' Bri muttered.
``She did seem a bit put off. She also had this rather tall leopard with her.''
``Her boyfriend.'' Brinna nodded
``I suppose. Anyways this was sent over for you. Along with a list sent to your message node. It seems your teacher is worried about you slipping too far behind.''
That caused Brinna to curl a bit harder into her mother. The poor girl glancing off to the side. ``I know, mom. I know I should go out again. But I just...''
``Shhh. I get it dear. I do. Strange as it is to say your father and I never had to deal with this sort of thing when we were your age. So long as you kept your head down and did your work the worst you might get is someone trying to steal your cloths. I can't say I've ever worried someone would use a gun on me. No serious worries, anyways.'' Kerri nudged the package a bit closer to Bri and kissed the girls cheek, a wide grin on her face.. ``But sometimes you need something more than just comfort to jolt you out of it. You're a big girl. This is your job. So, may as well get jobbing, right?'' She giggled softly.
``Jobbing? But mom, what do you-'' Bri winced and looked away again. This time bringing up the list that had supposedly been sent to her.
Since it seems that certain events have rendered you unable to perform the bulk of your duties, mademoiselle Kelley, It is only right that I, as your teacher, take this time to help demonstrate the more subtle and archaic roots of our craft. You should find everything you need to get started, and any local material printer should be able to give you replacements should you run out. I trust that you will not disappoint me too greatly.
Misure Jean Luc Muller
Brinna slipped back and laughed. Laughed loud and hard, and she had no idea why. She turned her eyes up to her mother who smirked back and gave the girl a kiss on the forehead. ``Well now.'' Kerri chuckled. ``Let's get you something to drink. Then maybe you can show your old mom how to do some of this stuff.''
It was strange being in such `normal' clothing. She still had her collar, naturally. And her glasses. Though beyond that Chepi had to admit she felt a bit naked. Much of the plump raccoon girls body was covered by a sleeveless `Leena Ruudstrum' tour tee from the last time Master had taken her out. A pair of thigh boots that thankfully had the same heel length as her maid shoes though felt awkward with how thick they were. The tight jeans she had clinging her thigh and tucked in under the hem of the boots. Even the little beaded hair clip with the feather in it. A gift from her mother back home. Chepi had always saved it for special occasions. Yet it, and everything else, made her feel naked without the uniform of her Masters household.
The worry cut itself off as the door slid open. Chepi shot a painfully warm and utterly genuine smile at the slumped mouse man standing at the other side. His graying fur tips split and tattered in ways the girl instantly wished to remedy with the veritable sea of products sitting back at home in the Maids quarters bathroom. The man offered her a weary nod and tilted his head a bit. He seemed quite confused until his green grey eyes caught sight of the collar around her neck.
``Greetings, sir. May this one enter?'' The raccoon chirped the words out happily and wriggled her tail side to side a bit. Looking up at the poor mans stunned expression and quickly returning to attention. ``Sorry. I didn't, like, break any etiquette or anything, did I sir?''
``Huh? Oh, uh, no. No you didn't.'' The man muttered as he stepped aside. ``I, uh, I assume you're here on behalf of Lord Thaneson then?''
Chepi nodded her head eagerly. The side-braid she'd stuck some of her hair in flopping about against her shoulder. ``If you don't mind that is. It is your home after all, sir. I promise I won't make much racket.''
The man smiled. He scratched behind one of those big floppy ears and took a step to the side to allow her in. He shifted uncomfortably and made a few small attempts to do something with the ratty white tank top he wore. Gods only knew what.
Chepi gave him another bow and looked over at the couch as she fiddled with the strap of her haversack. ``May I be seated, Sir?'' She chirped. If nothing else hoping that the shift in position might help alleviate some of the obvious self consciousness.
``Yeah, sure. Go ahead.'' He nodded. ``I'll get Bri. Let her know she's got some company.''
Chepi bounded her way over to the tattered couch and slipped into it with a grace one may not expect from her build. The haversack popped open with a simple gesture and she began removing an array of plastic containers from it. Setting the contents out in a neat, organized manner along the coffee table.
By the time the Dormouse made her way out of her room, Chepi had already made herself comfortable. One glance at Bri caused her to cringe. The worn girl looked positively ready to keel over. Her long hair matted and knotted with twisted splits throughout. Her fur likewise tattered and ill cared for. She stood there slumped on the door frame with a too-small set of Rati themed pajamas that absolutely should not have fit on an adult woman at all, yet barely managed to stay on her as a midriff top and long shorts.
Bri stood for a long moment focused on nothing. Her eyes crossing now and then. When they both managed to fall on the strange raccoon girl the dormouse was quick to slip back behind the door frame. Hiding as best she could in the gap between wall and bed in her miniscule little room.
Time passed slowly. Bri poking her head out from behind the corner now and then with her glasses laying lopsided on her face. Chepi Sat rail straight with flawless, perfect posture. Almost statuesque in place while holding one of the plastic containers on her box. Through it all (Fathers name) simply stood by the kitchen area. Too tired and too confused to bother speaking up.
``You doing ok, sweetheart?'' (Fathers name) Muttered finally as he took a few steps closer. Trying to casually place himself between his daughter and the unrecognized girl who sat there with an expression of frightening cheer on her face.
``Forgive me, Sister. I wasn't really intending to wake you. I mean, I kinda was. Master says you can't oversleep so much now. And he's right because that's super bad for you. But I mean I know it sucks when you wake up like that too.'' Chepi punctuated her statement by slipping to her knees a moment and bowing her head, wincing as the box fell from her lap and thumped on the floor, nearly breaking open.
Long moments of examination finally sparked a small note of recognition in Bri's face. The mouse folding her ears back a little and taking a few nervous steps forwards. ``Y-you were at the Solstice party, right?'' She asked nervously.
``Yuh huh! It's ok if you don't remember me. I understood that you had a rather difficult time with the Lady Thane that night.''
Bri bit her lip and nodded. She started to scoot in closer. Her eyes moving nervously to her father for a moment and then back to the couch. ``Y-you don't have to do that.'' She mumbled. Looking down at the smiling girl who slowly pulled herself back up on to the couch and bent down to collect some of the odds and ends which had fallen out of her box.
``You gonna be ok in here if I head in to my room, Bri sweetie?'' (Fathers name was careful to let his daughter catch him staring hard at the new girl, clearly not fully trusting the stranger who had just shown up.
``Yeah, dad. It's on. I met her when Master took me to meet his mother.'' She curled her toes a bit and took another deep breath ``I-it'll be fine. You can go watch your game.''
``Oh I'm just going in for a quick nap, sweetheart. That's all.'' He laughed. Both knew it wasn't true. The old dormouse already making the few telltale flicks as he brought up the Rugby game in his AR. ``But feel free to come get me if you need me, ok? I'll just be in here trying not to wake your mom.'' With that he slipped into the other bedroom letting the door slide shut. Leaving the two girls alone on the couch.
Brinna shifted and settled back into her cushion. She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked around the apartment idly. Her eyes coming to rest on the Holoprojector, then the girl, then the boxes laid out on the table invading what small space the room had with well organized clutter.
``I heard that you were currently doing some work on your apprenticeship from home. To make sure you stayed caught up on stuff.'' The Raccoon nodded happily as she popped open one of the boxes. Dozens of lines of wire organized by where they'd sit on a color chart laid out in their own little five centimeter cubes.
``Yeah.'' Bri nodded. ``I, well, I'm trying to anyways.'' She reached under the small table to the packet Tabatha had brought over. Withdrawing the small set of hand tools and basic copper wire. ``Wait, how'd you know about that?''
``Master.'' Chepi shrugged. ``He said that you were probably going to be fixating heavily on the event, based on what You said Dr. Naomi said. He and Sita decided I'd do better distracting you by encouraging you to work on some projects. Even though I really donno what kinds of projects to do. I mean, I've never really made any sort of jewelry before. That's not really where my duties lie. So I had the work room printer give me a ton of stuff and then fit what I could into boxes that would fit in my bag.''
The fact that the other girl was even able to stay sitting upright after that was a bit shocking to Bri. She paused a long moment to make sure that Chepi wouldn't start to belt something out again. Popping open the small pouch and looking at the scan code as the data rushed from some far-off node to her jack. An `assignments' list springing to life in her HUD. She then glanced over to Chepi trying to figure out just what the girl seemed to be doing. Watching her slowly lay out tools and other items while seeking to get the most use out of the space available.
``So they, they sent you here to keep an eye on me then?'' Brinna muttered softly. She took the coil of wire and began to measure out a few even lengths. The soft copper had grown familiar to her in the past year. Bending like clay in her trembling fingers as she struggled to keep each length uniformly straight. She then withdrew a small plastic box with a pair of knobbed screws holding either side in place, the middle made up of two indented points of padding into which the Dormouse set the wires.
It was a difficult time getting them to stay put as Brinna slowly tightened the little box around her materials. Only when she'd gotten the small vice tightened did she realize Chepi had moved in and was currently holding the wires in place. Doing her best to ensure they were perfectly aligned. It made Bri pause for a moment. Then offer an insincere smile. She quickly curled back into the couch between the back and arm with her bare feet pulled on to it as well. Her position highlighting just how tight the clothes were compared, well, everything else she owned.
The raccoon gave herself a few moments to gawk. Her eyes tracing over the curves and bare toes of her new sister slave with all the subtlety of a dump truck. Undaunted by the apparent and growing discomfort Brinna displayed, or perhaps it was more just oblivious to it, Chepi reached over to another of the boxes and pulled it open. A small assortment of thin flat candies of some sort arranged with the same precision as everything else. She scooped the container up and swept it around so that Bri could get a good look. Her proud beaming somehow seeming to grow even more intense.
``Let's see. This is chocolate toffee bark, coffee bark. Maple nut bark, Truffle bark, Ohhh peppermint bark. That one's my favorite. What kind do your parents like? I'm pretty sure I have another one somewhere so we can save that for them.''
``I don't know.'' Brinna whined as she folded her ears back. ``Bark? Like, from the trees in the park? I don't know what any of this is.''
``It's candy.'' Chepi chirped. She snatched up one of the nice white bark slivers and popped it in her mouth. A low murr thrumming in her throat. ``Eh it's ok if you're not hungry No rush. I just figured I'd let you know it was here. I promise I won't eat much. Honest.'' She set the box down without waiting for Bri to answer and finally selected some bright violet colored steel wire from her case. Moments later the Raccoon was already working to twist the wire around one of the very expensive looking jewelry pliers she'd brought. Twisting it around a small foam form in the shape of a comically long and featureless finger.
Deep calming breaths. Brinna echoed the words of her therapist to herself. The words rolling around again and again, each one somehow less confident than the last. Her breaths hovering on the edge of hyperventilation the deeper and harder they became. So deep in fact that it came as a bit of a shock when Brinna felt the world spin and her eyes cross a bit. Stopped from face planting into the table only by a set of hands swiftly gripping her and pushing her back into place.
``Whoa, Careful there, sister.'' Chepi whined. ``Are you ok? Do you need some medication?'' The Raccoon quickly darted back into her bag, starting to shuffle around.
``S-so why do you keep calling me that?'' Brinna muttered once her breath came back. The vulnerable dormouse reached up and rubbed her shoulder where the other girl had gripped her not long ago. The spot still radiated with uncomfortable tingles. It made her squirm and push herself back further into the couch with an eye fixed on the oblivious woman next to her.
A few moments passed. The wheels in Chepi's mind turning and grinding rather hard as she swayed in place. Her fingers idly trying to twist the wire into a ring shape, not really seeming to notice how badly she bent and contorted it with each winding. ``Why? Is something wrong? Master never said that it might be upsetting for you. I mean he said some things would be. He even gave me a list. Well a kinda list. He didn't cover nearly as many things as I figured considering the ordeal you went though. I mean I've been Masters' for over a decade now and I've never had to face that kind of problem. Well, I mean granted I live in his suites. Nobody's getting in there. Well someone got out once, but that's not in. Hey, is something wrong?''
Bri shrank back further and bit her lip. The words seemingly lost on her now. One hand reaching up to slowly drag a blanket from the back of the couch and wrap herself in it. Her eyes falling down on the pattern set along the front.
After what seemed like an eternity Chepi finally held out her small creation. A tattered mess of wire wrapped into a loose and somewhat broken Centimeter-wide loop with air gaps between them as the wire itself strained to spring free and uncoil. Her hand remained before Bri, unmoving. Not saying anything as the poor dormouse slowly peeked out from behind the blanket to look at it. Eyeing it carefully and then looking back to the other girl.
``I think you went to fast.'' Brinna muttered.
``Yeah. Probably. I admit I kinda don't know what I'm doing with any of this stuff. Sita always tells me I need to stop and... I'll shut up now.'' The Raccoon bit her lip and looked back down at the coil.
``No, it's ok.'' Bri whined. ``I just. It's kind of a lot.'' She pulled herself up a bit more and narrowed her eyes for a moment. ``You, you do belong to Master, right?''
Chepi nodded vigorously ``Of course! Why else would I come here. I mean, You seem really nice, and I bet I'd like meeting you regardless. But I couldn't know about any of this if you weren't my new sister. Well if you weren't my new Sister and Master hadn't told me to come down here and keep you company. Which is super exciting don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say I was forced.''
``Yeah. But, I mean you could have been one of... them'' Bri muttered.
``Who?'' Chepi titled her head a bit.
``You know. Those... people'' Bri whined loudly and buried her face again as her ears folded back.
``Those people? Ohhh. The kidnappers. Nah they're dead. Well, dead or in custody. The ones who took you are definitely dead. Then the ringleader got taken out by that Kani girl. The one who let Master know you were in trouble.''
``Wait what?'' Brinna gasped.
``Oh yeah. Master actually went over the footage of the attack taken by the isolated sensor network they had set up in there. Man, it was like an action holo. I admit I kinda like action holos. And games. But I can understand if you really don't' want any of those right now. Still I almost thought that bear guy had Kani at the end there. Then the spike went off and bam.'' Chepi giggled happily, then paused, then slumped a bit finally able to notice the look of utter terror on Bri's face.
``Wow. Sorry. That wasn't too much was it?'' Chepi muttered ``I mean if it was, I... Yeah. Sorry.''
Chepi scooped up the ring she'd made and held it out for Brinna, tilting her head softly. ``So, uh. How's this?'' She muttered.
``Kanina was in a fight? S-she got hurt?'' She gasped ``Why? How? When? Who? Was she hurt? W-was that why she was gone so long? What did she do?'' The dormouse lunged at her houseguest, looking her in the eye and trembling hard as she gripped hold of Chepi's shirt by the shoulders. Her whole body slumping hard as thousands upon thousands of thoughts raced though her head at once.
Bri finally collapsed back onto herself once more. Tears streaking down her cheeks with her ears folded back hard. Her whimpers breaking down into slow, steady sobs.
Chepi started to move in a bit closer. Then stopped. Her body shifting uncomfortably. She set the ring back down and reached out near Brinna's shoulder only for the girl to pull away at the last second and curl harder. The Raccoon girl then reached out and picked up the box of candy, holding it before her. ``You sure you don't want to try some? Or... or maybe...''
She set the box down quickly and instead pulled out a small collapsible controller., setting it at Bri's feet, taking a moment to curse herself for staring when everything was getting so awkward and scary. The older slave quickly cursed herself for the distraction and looked back up at poor Brinna. ``I have some games loaded into a few different cloud nodes. It's mostly just like, simulators and stuff. Cooking. Construction. Farm work. I mean if you like that sort of thing. Wanna try little sister?''
A few long, hesitant moments passed without word. Only the sound of crying to fill the small room. Finally Chepi scooted herself in closer and whined gently. ``I, Um. Would it be ok if I...'' She bit her lip and leaned in, slowly feeling out what actions or attention seemed to make Brinna the least tense. Her body shifting in an attempt to diffuse the emotional time bomb without making the girl feel any worse.
It was something of a relief when the sobbing, broken dormouse finally thrust herself into the strange woman's arms. Positively drinking up what comfort she could offer.
``Bri!'' Sean's voice bellowed though the house. A nice wide smile on his face. The bear had been up all night worried. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have. By five AM though he'd come to terms with it. Sadly too late to get any sleep, but at least he was starting to accept the idea that telling Bri the truth was probably smart. Provided Dr. Naomi agreed. ``Come on, my little gem. Time for your appointment!''
Brinna stood there in the middle of the room. She was dressed, she was clean. Both very good signs. The look on her face, however, set him off his guard.
``Master.'' Bri muttered quietly. ``We need to talk.''