Others, 31

Sometimes It Takes a Stranger to Make You Realize Why You’re Acting How You Are

Ao3 Link

The only thing Peter remembered fondly about growing up was his parents’ fancy parties. They’d only thrown them so everyone would know how important they were, but he’d always liked the atmosphere of a big, glamourous party where everyone was rich and important and well dressed and there was good food and pretty decorations and nice music.

Fortunately, now that he was a mage, he sometimes got to go to fancy parties anyway, even though he wasn’t officially related to his parents anymore. Unfortunately, the parents who refused to be related to him anymore had had a lot of success with their party-throwing strategy and had moved to the capital not long after he had, and now when he went to fancy parties here, they were sometimes there too.

But that was okay, it gave him plenty of opportunity to make them angry.

“Being a mage is pretty fun,” he was telling a young nobleman named Kieran. “You get to do sex magic, consort with demons, do sex magic and consort with demons at the same time. Turns out demons and angels are both just special-looking humans who are extra-hot, by the way. The Catechism’s been covering that one up for years, but I was the sexed-up sacrifice in this conjuring last week…is that priest who was standing behind me still there?”

“Uh, no,” Lord Kieran said, looking over Peter’s shoulder. “His face got all red and he left. Maybe all the sexy demon talk got him hot and bothered? Do they have horns and tails and stuff?”

“Sorry,” Peter said. “I was making that up. I’ve never actually met a demon. That was my dad and I was just trying to make him mad. We actually just learn a lot of history. I do know how to turn eggplants into wood, though.”

Kieran blinked. “That, uh, was Basil Swiftheart. The High Presbyter’s husband.”

Peter nodded. “I know. Peter Swiftheart, hi.”

“Wow,” said Kieran, eyes travelling across the room to Peter’s mother, who hadn’t spoken to him all night since he’d rescued some guy from her halfway through the party. “I heard they didn’t have…”

Was my father. I was disowned.”

“And since I just heard your not-mom give a sermon on how all magic-users are servants of the devil yesterday, I guess I know why.” Kieran gave him a smile. “And here I thought I was a disappointment.”

Peter hadn’t disappointed anyone who mattered. And Kieran hadn’t apologized to him, which he appreciated. “Your father is the king’s treasurer, right?” Lord Kenneth Wrathwate seemed like a blowhard to Peter, the kind of man who was just passably smart enough to pretend to be a complete bloviating waste of skin to get away with minor bullshit.

“So he tells me,” said Kieran, shrugging. “So there aren’t hot demons? What about angels?”

“Well, shapeshifting magic and illusion spells and angels and demons all exist,” Peter said. “And they presumably have access to more potent magic than humans, so I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be able to look like what they wanted to look like.” According to Isaac, at least one demon had the power to look like centipedes, so it stood to reason that other demons could look less disgusting if they wanted to.

Kieran nodded, emptying his glass. “It would be cool if they had huge horns and tails and stuff. And claws, right? And lots of fur.”

“You’re getting close to blasphemy there, Kieran,” Peter teased.

“It’s only blasphemy if you do it!”

That wasn’t technically true, but Peter had learned that no matter how cute a guy thought he was, explaining the specifics of hamartiological doctrine was a turn-off. He wasn’t specifically trying to hit on Kieran or anything, but he was also enjoying talking to him. “If you’re so into horns, why not talk to a dragon?” Peter asked, looking across the room. Dragons could look like hot humans with horns and tails when they wanted to, which Peter had known because Isaac had told him that a while ago, and also because there were two at this party. Well, one. The tall, naked one with the body paint had left immediately after the anointing ceremony. The short little one who’d originally had clothes on was still here, talking with the southerner Peter had rescued earlier.

“I did, I was talking to Louis earlier,” Kieran said with a smile. “He was actually really nice. He offered to take me to his cave sometime. Uh. Anyway, sorry for sticking on that. I totally get trying to piss your dad off, so if you want to switch it up and talk about fucking hot angels in his hearing anywhere, we can do that.”

“Thanks, but I’m probably good for now,” Peter said. Pissing his parents off was fun, but he could hear Isaac in the back of his mind telling him he shouldn’t spend so much energy being mean and that the best way to get back at people he didn’t like was to be happy in spite of them. And knowing Isaac was right about that was annoying when he wanted Isaac to be wrong about everything and when he didn’t want to think about Isaac, and when he’d come to this party with Jacob specifically to get away from Isaac for a night.

Isaac wasn’t even doing anything wrong. He was just there, and he was obviously sad. And Peter had made him sad. And he wanted to hug Isaac and tell him it was okay and that everything was fine, but everything wasn’t fine and Peter also knew that Isaac would be the first person to tell him that if something was bothering him, he should speak up. But he had spoken up and now he couldn’t be in rooms with Isaac without wanting to cry.

But he wasn’t here to think about Isaac, so he tried not to. “So what pisses your dad off?” Peter asked. Oh, that wasn’t quite the subject change he’d had planned. Oh well.

Kieran shrugged. “Mostly when I fail to live up to my potential as a son of House Wrathwate, I guess. Skipping political stuff, not having ambition, drinking too much, dicking around. So, you know.”

“Fun,” Peter translated. “He doesn’t like it when you have fun.”

“Pretty much.” Kieran sighed. “I try to do it anyway, just to spite him.”

“Spite is a much more powerful motivator than people give it credit for,” Peter agreed. He had an idea. “Hey, if you want help pissing him off, I could give you a blowjob or something, spread a rumour that you were behaving indecently at the party.”

Kieran laughed. “That would be hilarious. He’d be so mad, oh, man. Screwing some random guy would be actually the most inappropriate thing I could do at a sacred anointing.”

Peter grinned. “So is that a yes?” He actually hadn’t planned to fuck anyone at this party, because it felt a bit crappy to him to go out when he was mad at Isaac and find someone to fuck, even though he absolutely knew that Isaac would be the first person to slap his ass and wish him luck even now. But Kieran was giving him a great reason to do it.

“Oh.” Kieran blinked. “You were…wait, were you being serious? You actually want to?”

“We don’t have to,” Peter said. Man, Isaac made this seem so easy. Peter was spoiled at the academy, where he already knew everyone was interested. “But yeah, if you’re interested, why not?”

“Well…sure!” Kieran grinned now, and gently started to lead Peter towards a set of doors. “That sounds awesome.”

“Sex is generally pretty awesome,” Peter agreed. “I even know some illusion spells. I could give myself horns and fur if you want.”

“Uh…how big would the horns be?” Kieran was red in the face.

Peter reached out and took his hand. “As big as you can handle,” he promised.

“That’s quite enough, Peter.”

Oh, that was his dad’s voice. Peter looked up at him, standing there in their way with his arms crossed, and with Peter’s mom beside him. Kenneth Wrathewate was there too, looking like an agitated bush. “Hi,” Peter said, smiling at all of them. “Kieran and I were just leaving.”

“You will be doing no such thing,” said Dad. “I heard the things you were telling him.”

“Yes, I know, I was saying them for your benefit. When your face is all splotchy red from theological anger is about the only time I can stand looking at it.”

Dad huffed, but it was Lord Kenneth who spoke. “Kieran, I won’t have your reputation put at risk by cavorting with such an indecent boy. Return to the party at once.”

“Hey, we weren’t doing anything…”


Peter could see the moment Kieran’s nerve failed him. He looked away from his father. “Yeah, okay. Sorry, Peter.”

“It’s okay.” Peter touched his hand gently, just for a second. “Come to the academy sometime, I’ll give you a tour.”

Kieran nodded, and he glumly headed back to the party, shrugging off his father’s hand even as Kenneth followed him. He was older than Peter, basically a grown adult, and his father treated him like a little boy. Peter didn’t blame him for caving. It was hard to have parents like that.

Made him glad he didn’t anymore. He glared at his, leaning on his cane. “It’s not actually your job to stop me having sex,” he told them.

“And it’s not yours to embarrass yourself by acting in the most debased way possible,” said Peter’s father. “We’re celebrating a holy event tonight, in hallowed company. Behave with some dignity, Peter.”

Peter thought about that, and stopped leaning. “Like you’re doing?” he asked. “It must be really uncomfortable, walking around with Mom’s hand up your ass all the time like that, and in such hallowed company.”

“How dare…”

“Basil,” Mom said, holding up a hand. “Peter, you weren’t responsible for the damning of your own soul, but if you avoid dragging others down into the pits of torment with you, your punishments will be lessened. You have limited time in which to atone for—”

“I’ll start atoning when you do,” Peter didn’t shout, just watched how her shoulders went stiff. She hated being interrupted. But they were also in public and she had an image to maintain. She couldn’t well yell at him in the middle of a party with the king just over there. “Spare me the apocalyptic bullshit, if you don’t mind. I’m not really in the mood.”

“Whether or not you are in the mood is irrelevant, young man. Attitudes like that are what grant the devil purchase in the world and damn the larger portion of all humanity to the fires of…”

Peter really didn’t need to hear her go on a scriptural rant. “Your Holiness, I say this with every speck of respect you’re owed. Go fuck yourself with a sepulchre.”

And as she sputtered and glared, he walked around his parents, heading for the door. He needed a little air. “Do not speak to her Holiness that way,” Dad snapped, grabbing Peter’s cane arm as he passed by.

Peter glared at his father, briefly touching Shadow and Light, letting a shock run up Dad’s arm and conjuring a small illusion of some serpents clinging to him. Dad shouted and stepped back. “If you ever touch me again I’ll turn you into a snake and keep you as a pet,” he said. He didn’t even enjoy the way his dad’s face paled. He just went to the doors and into the big foyer outside, leaving them behind.

Goddamit, Peter thought, trying not to shake. He’d come here to have fun. He’d been having fun. Why did they have to be so…existent? Why couldn’t Peter have been an orphan or something? Why…

“Hey,” a quiet voice said, and Peter looked over his shoulder. Jacob was there, smiling nervously. “I, uh, noticed you had something of a confrontation with your parents just then. It looked very stressful, and I’m sorry I didn’t help. Are you okay and do you want me to fill their bedrooms with ants? I can get the bitey kind.”

Peter shook his head with a smile, letting Jacob come closer and put an arm around him. “I’m fine,” he muttered.

“I don’t think you really are,” said Jacob, leaning against Peter a little. “I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me that they’d be here, even though it should have. I should have taken you somewhere else.”

“No, I’m having a good time. I’m glad we came.” Peter sighed. He really was glad. “I just don’t get hating your own kid that much.” Peter and his parents had disagreed about stuff before and they’d never had a great relationship, but as soon as his magic had manifested, that had been it. They’d just thrown him away.

And Peter pretended it didn’t hurt, because it did.

“They’re not your family,” Jacob said, shaking his head. “If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that your family doesn’t have to be the people you’re related by blood to. Those two aren’t your family. They didn’t make you.”

“I mean they pretty literally did,” Peter muttered.

“They provided some basic natural materials that you can get at any apothecary, sure,” said Jacob. “But they didn’t make you. You made you. And they’re not your family. We are.”

We. Jacob, and Isaac, and everyone at the academy. They were his family. He was right. Did that include Nicholas? Peter hated him, or he thought he did. But now that he was here, coming down from talking to his former parents, Peter remembered what it was really like to hate someone. Was that really how he felt about Nicholas? He didn’t think it was. “Yeah,” Peter said, taking in a deep breath. “You’re right. I was thinking I might change my last name. I kept it to piss them off, but it’s just something that ties me to them.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Jacob said, smiling. “I have some suggestions if you’d like to hear them. Not that I was specifically anticipating this, I just keep a bank of interesting aliases, and you’re free to use any of them that you like. How do you feel about Abysskeeper as a name? Peter?”

“Sorry,” Peter said, distracted. He was watching a nearby knight poke at some decorative plants, which were moving weirdly. “Um, I think there’s someone over there.”

As he said that, the knight said “Aha!” and stuck his hand into the plants, pulling out a young man with a knife. “Found you!”

“What the fuck,” Peter said, reaching for the Pillars as a second man emerged from the plants. Jacob had a knife out beside them.

Neither of them were necessary. The knight punched the guy in the face, then kicked the second guy in the belly. While they were both staggered he got in four more punches, a ball-kick and then flipped the second guy over his shoulder, stomping on his chest. He hit the first guy in the face with his elbow while he was doubled over, and smiled as both men fell to the ground unconscious.

“Uh…” Jacob said. “Good job?”

The knight looked up and beamed at them. “Thanks. Nothing to worry about here, just standard security stuff. You can go about your business, sirs.”

Peter and Jacob looked at each other, then at the knight, who’d knelt and was tying the two guys up with fronds from the plants. Peter shrugged and walked by him, down into a different hallway. “Thanks,” he told the knight, using a thin strand of Dark to reinforce the fronds so they wouldn’t snap. “He’s got it under control,” he said to Jacob. “Good thing, too, last time I was at a party it was me the murderers tried to kill.”

“I hate it when that happens,” said Jacob with a sigh.

Peter nodded. Not far from them were two younger boys who seemed to be having an argument. One of them had cat ears and the other dog ears, each matching the tails they had sticking out of their pants, and they’d both been at the party. The werewolf boy was Prince Grey Rain ven Sancte, but Peter didn’t know the cat boy’s name. “Um,” he said to Jacob. “I think they’re going to fight.”

Jacob glanced over. “Grey Rain doesn’t fight people, he’s far too…oh, it does kind of look like they’re going to fight, doesn’t it? Ray looks a bit frightened, actually. Sorry, I’m technically sort of a nanny so I’m going to go intervene a little bit.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, following him over.

“I just, I’m sorry,” Ray was pleading. “I’m sorry and I don’t know what I did but please let me fix it.” He was moving his hands as he spoke, trying to use sign language clumsily.

Peter wasn’t fluent enough in sign language to speak it, but he knew how to read it. You hurt Snowball! He was happy and you ruined everything! It’s all your fault, I hate you! Grey Rain’s ears were flat against his head and he was growling.

“Hey,” Jacob said, signing as he spoke. He got both their attention. “That’s a pretty mean thing to say, isn’t it?”

Grey Rain stopped growling, but his ears were still flat. It’s the truth, he said, tail hanging low.

Since Jacob obviously knew Grey Rain, Peter looked at Ray. “What’s going on?”

“I just…” Ray didn’t seem to mind that Peter was a stranger. “I scared his boyfriend Greg, or I hurt him or made him sad somehow and I don’t know why, I don’t know what I did but I swear I didn’t mean to.” He was crying. “I swear it was an accident whatever it was and I want to fix it, and I want to help but he won’t tell me how, and…”

“Hey, hey,” Peter said, putting a hand on his shoulder. He was a little surprised when Ray wrapped his arms around his middle and started sobbing. “It’s okay, you’ll be okay.”

Ray shook his head, looking over at Grey Rain, who was glaring at him. It’s all your fault, he said again. Just go away and never come back ever again.

Ray buried his face in Peter’s shirt. Peter glared at Grey Rain. “Jacob, translate for me?”


“Just do it.” Peter had a feeling he knew why he felt so strongly about this, but he wasn’t interested in parsing it at the moment. “You’re quite the little asshole, aren’t you?” he asked Grey Rain, who blinked when he saw Jacob’s translation. “You think it’s okay to treat someone badly just because you’re upset?”

Grey Rain glared at him. He hurt Snowball.

“Did he do it on purpose?” Peter demanded.

Now Grey Rain looked away from Peter, tail drooping further. I guess not, he admitted, tears in his eyes too.

“So you know that, and you know he feels bad about it, but you’re still making him feel worse? You’re not even really mad at him.” Peter was no expert in werewolves, but his tail being between his legs was probably not a sign of rage. His whole posture read something else. “You’re worried about your Snowball and that’s a good thing to be, but being a jerk doesn’t help him. It just hurts more people and those people’s feelings matter too.”

Grey Rain started several times to sign words that he didn’t finish. He wavered in place, looking miserable, before finally saying, Tell him I’m sorry. And he ran off before Peter could say anything else.

“Shit,” Peter said. “Go after him and apologize for me,” he told Jacob. “I shouldn’t have been that harsh, he doesn’t even know me.” He shouldn’t have even gotten involved in this.

Jacob nodded, stepping away. “Are you okay, though?” he asked.

“I’m fine, go.”

“It’s just…I couldn’t help but notice…”

“That I was talking about myself, yes, I know,” Peter said, closing his eyes. “I know. Tell him that I’m a jerk too.”

“Okay.” Jacob touched Peter’s shoulder briefly. “I’ll come find you when I’m done. We can maybe talk about the thing you don’t want to talk about?”

“Yeah,” Peter said. They should maybe do that. “Go, though.”

Jacob nodded and left, following after Grey Rain.

“I don’t think you’re a jerk,” Ray said, into Peter’s chest. “Thank you.”

“All I did was make him cry too,” Peter said with a sigh, letting Ray hold him. “He didn’t mean the things he said.”

“You don’t know that. You don’t know him.”

“But you do,” Peter said quietly. “Do you think he meant them?”

Ray was quiet for a good minute, getting his crying under control. He wiped at his eyes, still holding Peter’s shirt with one hand. “He…he rescued me from something awful. I think I was in love with him from the minute I saw him. I didn’t think that he could do anything bad. I didn’t think…”

“Anyone can make a mistake,” Peter said to Ray, taking him to the wall and sitting him down underneath a window. They were still just sitting in a hallway. “And anyone can say something they don’t mean, and anyone can hurt someone by accident. It’s even easier when we’re scared for people we care about.”

Ray wrinkled his nose for a second, reaching up and scratching an ear. “He was right. It is all my fault, though. I should just go away and…”

“Don’t you dare do that,” Peter said, hand on Ray’s knee. “You said you were trying to help. Were you maybe trying to talk to him when he didn’t want you to?”

“Y-yeah, but…”

“Give him a little bit of time. It’s really, really hard to talk about stuff when you’re both upset. You shouldn’t leave forever over something like this. You just need to both calm down and then you can talk about it. Just give him a little bit of time.”

“That’s what Cal said too,” Ray muttered, ears flattening. “Should have listened.”

“Yeah, but it’s hard to listen when we love people,” Peter said with a sigh. “He said he was sorry, before he ran away. I really don’t think he meant any of what he said.” Or maybe he had meant it. Peter had meant the things he’d said to Isaac. That didn’t mean they hadn’t hurt Isaac. It also didn’t mean Peter didn’t feel bad about saying them.

“Okay,” Ray said, voice dull. “Don’t get me wrong because I really appreciate you being here, but…why do you care about us? I don’t even know who you are?”

Peter shrugged. “There’s this boy I love. And he gets really upset when people are fighting. And I saw you fighting, and I thought, this would make Isaac really sad,” he said, choking up a little. “And I said a bunch of things to him I wish I hadn’t, and now we can barely talk to each other, and…” Peter shut his eyes. Shit, he hadn’t meant to say that. Shit.

Ray leaned in beside him, holding Peter by the arm. “I’m sure he knows you didn’t mean them,” he whispered.

“I…I think I did mean them. At least when I said them. I’m not sure anymore.” Peter hoped so hard that Isaac knew he hadn’t wanted to hurt him, that it wasn’t Isaac he was mad at. He knew that Isaac hadn’t wanted to hurt him either.

“What’s your name?” Ray asked.

“I’m Peter,” Peter said.

“I’m Ray.” Peter nodded, pretending he hadn’t known that. “Is it okay if I sit here with you for a few minutes?” Ray asked.

“Of course,” Peter told him. “We can stay as long as you want.”

“Okay.” Ray surprised Peter by climbing right into his lap, but Peter held him there. They sat quietly for a while, lost in themselves. Then Ray looked up at Peter. “Hey, Peter?”


“Can you…can you tell me about Isaac? Not about your fight. About the stuff you, you know. Like about him.”

“S-sure,” Peter said, tightening his grip on Ray. “And maybe you could tell me about Grey Rain, too.”


“Okay,” Peter said. He swallowed. “Isaac is the nicest person in the whole world. He loves every single person he meets…”

Neither of them went back to the party. Peter was glad he’d come.


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6 thoughts on “Others, 31

  1. Good work, Twig. Keep it up and you’ll have an anointing ceremony of your own, soon enough.

    (Possibly not QUITE as soon if you rub this in Sir Stan’s face every chance you get. But that might well be worth the sacrifice.)


    1. He will, and he’ll deserve it! But honestly, I think you’re right, Stan very much deserves this rubbed in his face at every opportunity, even if it sets Twig back a small amount in his goals.



  2. I eagerly await the day when the Swifthearts learn just how much of Peter’s lurid descriptions of angels and demons are perfectly accurate. And that Cal really is the god of the Catechism, with all that implies. And that huge swaths of the scripture they’ve devoted their lives to is basically propaganda that the angels themselves don’t believe.


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