Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Birthday post!

 Hi darlins!

It's my birthday tomorrow, so I'm taking a week off from the blog story and will be doing nothing but having fun with my family when the big day rolls around tomorrow. I'm not quite done with my dirty thirties yet, but the end is nigh, lol.

I've got some birthday presents for you all, though! Tomorrow, on Amazon, my m/m SF novella Evergreen will be free, and both Friendly Fire and Dark Around the Edges will by $.99! This is a one-day, birthday celebration sale, so...yeah, if you haven't read them yet, tomorrow's a good day to pick them up :)

Also, Treasured is coming out at the end of the month, and the prequel, Stolen, can't be read for free if you sign up for my newsletter. *wink wink* The link's below.

I hope your day is as great as I know mine will be!

Cari Z's Newsletter!



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Twenty, Part Two

 Notes: Revelations! Some uncomfortable, some...no, they're all uncomfortable. Sorry, darlins. It'll get better, I promise!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Twenty, Part Two

***

Chapter Twenty, Part Two

 


“There’s no need to sound so funereal about it,” Katherine chided John. “This has been a really fascinating research delve, I have to say. It took me a while to figure out who you were talking about, of course, but once I did—”

“That wasn’t part of the deal!” John burst out. “You’re not supposed to know anything else about the kid!” Next to him, Charlie shifted uncomfortably, anger in his face but worry in his body language.

“Well, you really didn’t give me very much to go on,” Katherine replied, talking to him like she would scold a puppy that had been naughty. “You out of everyone should understand that if you want to make real progress in the realm of scientific exploration, you need to get all the data you possibly can. That means utilizing a few less than savory connections to benefit the greater good, in this case. And the good could be very good, if you manage things properly!”

“I…you…shit.” John sighed. “I’m putting you on speaker.”

“Oh, are you going to introduce me to the sergeant you’ve been keeping in your back pocket for the past few weeks?” Katherine asked slyly. “Hello, Sergeant Verlaine! How nice to make your acquaintance. I’m Dr. Katherine Mullins, I’m a friend of John’s.”

“That’s not how he’d describe it,” Charlie said shortly.

“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t, but that’s just because he doesn’t fully understand the scope of the research that we’re doing here. The number of people we’ve helped with his help, it’s extraordinary. Particularly your people, Sergeant. Members of special operations.”

Charlie scowled. “Do you expect me to thank you?”

“Not at all! Just know where I’m coming from,” Katherine said, and John had to admire how absolutely consistent she could be in the face of disapproval. There was something in Dr. Mullins’ psychology that allowed her a total disconnect from the reality of her research, and the pain that she caused, with the strength of her justifications. If John were a different sort of person, he’d envy her ability, maybe even try to emulate it.

As it was, it just made him feel sick, and a little sad.

“Anyhow, on to my information! A little bit of digging and some very challenging cross-referencing was enough to convince me that the child has a Siren ability.”

“You already said it wasn’t Siren,” John objected. “And Siren’s not a knack that works on its caster, and it’s not supposed to have this kind of permanency either.”

“That was before I knew the nature of the man who rescued the child,” Katherine retorted. “I’m glad I’m on speaker, actually, because I need to clear some things up. Sergeant Verlaine, you’re a Shield. Am I correct in assuming you cast a Shield around the child as you were rescuing him?”

“While we were waiting for rescue, yes,” Charlie said, looking a little mystified.

“And did that Shield also encompass you, or did you have a Double going?”

A double? John had never heard of doubling a Shield before. Charlie, though, was nodding.

“It was a double,” he confirmed. “One around Ari, a larger one around the two of us. If something happened and I lost concentration or was somehow injured, I wanted to have something up that would protect him for a little longer.”

“An enduring Shield, then. Backed with blood, I suppose?”

“Yes…”

Enduring Shield? Blood? Jesus, John didn’t know any of this.

“Ah. What we have here, then, is a case of a young Siren, a child without any previous indicator of ability and no sense of how to modulate himself, discovering his knack in a highly stressful situation. He was fixated on you, Sergeant Verlaine, likely because you were the only person he could clearly see through the Shield you’d cast. He couldn’t get out, and as the pressure of his knack built and built, it couldn’t get out either.

“My theory is that his very first Siren knack exploded from him, ready to bind you intensely, possibly even permanently—not on purpose, but by default due to his age and ability level. Instead, it hit your Shield and inverted, rebounding on him so strongly that it affected him in the way it would have affected you. He couldn’t fight against his own knack the first time around, not with this sort of intensification,” Katherine added a little more gently. “He didn’t have any resistance built up to applying it to himself. So he accidentally targeted himself, and the result was this intense devotion, which is only getting harder to bear as his knack becomes stronger.”

“How do we fix it?” Charlie demanded. “How to we help him break out of this cycle?”

“I’m note entirely sure you can.” Katherine didn’t sound happy about that—probably not for Ari’s sake though, more because she hated not knowing things. “The initial inversion was caused by intense emotional and physical trauma. In order to present a situation in which the knack could be redirected, the boy would have to be in a new traumatic situation, one which would have to involve you. Not physical—I’m not saying you would have to hurt him. But some sort of emotional or mental wounding would need to happen in order for the inversion to re-express itself and turn his Siren knack around the way it’s meant to face, so to speak.”

Oh, fuck. That sounded hellish. It sounded…well, impossible.

“It’s entirely likely there are other options out there, but this is the one with the highest rate of success that I’ve considered,” Katherine went on. “And even then, these sort of attempts were only successful about a third of the time in the cases I could find. There’s really not a lot of research on the subject, which is a shame. I wonder…”

“No,” John interjected. “Don’t even think about it.”

“Silly thing, you don’t know what I’m thinking,” Katherine said. “Let’s just shelve this conversation for now, shall we? Please extend an offer to the child’s mother from me, John. I’d love to be able to take a closer look at him, and you, Sergeant Verlaine. Perhaps I could be of more assistance that way.”

“Thanks but no thanks. Bye now.” John ended the call. He took a deep breath, then looked at Charlie, who was staring blankly at the phone. “Are you okay?”

“No.” Charlie ran his hand down his face. “Nope. Not really. I mean, I’ve basically just been told that I Shielded Ari into damaging himself, so…yeah, not okay.”

“You didn’t,” John protested. “You saved him.”

“I didn’t need the internal Shield to do that.” Charlie sounded angry at himself. “It was a bad situation, but not that bad. My outer Shield was holding fine, I could have…I should have…”

“Charlie.” John reached for him, but Charlie flinched away.

“I need to go…shower. Or…or something.” He left, and the empty space between them felt wider than the Grand Canyon to John.

He’d only brought this to Katherine to get help, and he sort of had. So why did he feel so awful about it now?

Oh yeah, because you’re going to have to traumatize a kid in order to maybe, maaaaaybe cure him.

Real fucking swell.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Twenty, Part One

 Notes: More Rivalries, yay! Have a tender moment before a major revelation, friends ;)

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Twenty, Part One

***

Chapter Twenty, Part One

 


What was the old curse? May you live in interesting times.

John felt the weight of a curse like that right now, felt it around him like a waterfall, roaring and stinging, and all he could do was cling to his raft and try to weather it in one piece. And try to hold everyone else he cared for together, which was harder than he’d thought it would be.

It would have been hard enough if all he had to worry about was Roland. It would have been hard enough if all he had to wonder about was whether or not Katherine would be useful when it came to Ari—the boy was calling twice a day now, usually during Charlie’s lunch break, but John had already had to cover for him once during class because Ari had called him in a state of hysteria. He was getting worse. However his knack had gotten twisted around, it was getting harder for him and his mother to manage.

Thinking about him, trying to help him while watching Charlie suffer with him, that would have been hard enough. But now he had Charlie to worry about too, thanks to this stupid fucking duel that Principal Cross was insisting on. John had wanted to confront her about it, but Charlie had put a halt to those plans with a single look.

Did that mean John was whipped? It probably meant he was whipped, but he didn’t care.

Shit, speaking of hard enough, it didn’t feel fair that the honeymoon period of their relationship was being tested by all of this crap happening all at once. The lightness, the joy…it was muted now, buried under the weight of both their responsibilities and commitments coming to the fore. John was glad he wasn’t a naturally jealous person—even if he was, he’d be an idiot to be jealous of a child—but he missed being the first thing Charlie focused on in the morning when they woke up. Now the first thing he did was check his phone to see if Huda had left him a message about Ari.

He’d tried to apologize for it exactly once, after he had to leave the table for dinner on Thursday and spent an hour on the phone with a frantic Ari, assuring him that they’d see each other soon, as soon as next week, that he would feel better and it would be all right. “Sorry about that,” he’d said wearily as he slumped down onto the couch next to John. “I couldn’t—”

“Nope.” John pressed a finger against Charlie’s lips. “I don’t need to hear that.”

Charlie had smiled, tired but real. The way the lines at the edges of his eyes crinkled made John want to kiss each and every one of them. “Everybody needs to hear an apology sometimes.”

“Only for things that are their fault,” John said. “Not for things they have no control over, or things that stem from their sense of compassion. Seriously, I’m not going to get mad at you for being there for a child. How often am I called in early to talk to case workers or parents or lawyers?”

Charlie’s smile faded. “Often. It’s wearing you the fuck out.”

“I’ll manage,” John said with a shrug. “But my point is, it would be unreasonable to be upset, especially since I’m doing the same thing. We’re really busy people. All we can do is our best to make time for each other and everything else in our lives all at once.” He leaned in and kissed Charlie on the lips, gently, not with the intent of taking it anywhere, just to feel him.

“I never thought I’d get to have this,” he confessed. “Not with you. Probably not with anyone, given all the weirdness in my life. And now I do, and I feel selfish wanting even more of you than I’ve got right now, but I promise I understand.”

Charlie hummed thoughtfully, and leaned in to kiss him again. “It’ll ease up,” he said. “Cross will realize she should just leave us alone, we’ll keep Roland safe, and we’ll find a way to help Ari.”

“That’s a tall order,” John said, only partially joking.

“It’s what’s going to happen.” Charlie’s confidence was heartening, and so was he way he wrapped his arm around John’s shoulders and pulled him in close, tucking his chin on top of John’s head. The height difference had bothered John in the beginning, but he was over that now, and to the point of enjoying it. Charlie’s shoulders were just the right height for leaning against. “We’ll work at it until it does. And we’ll do it together.”

“I’m not entirely sure whose life I fell into, but I like it.”

“It’s really your life.” Charlie sounded a little distant. “And really mine. Talk about never thinking you’d get something. I knew that what happened to me, losing my arm, wasn’t the end of my chance at a good life, but I never thought I’d end up with a life I wanted to bother sharing with someone else. But I do, with you. It feels…nice, but also a little unreal.”

John laughed, and Charlie joined in. “We’re a matched fucking set, then.”

“Lucky us.”

John’s phone went off, and he groaned. “I swear, if I get called into another early meeting with lawyers because of some pre-court logistical bullshit, I’m going to kill someone,” he muttered as he reached for his phone.

Charlie grinned. “Then you’d really be in court all the time.”

“Yeah, but I’d…oh.” His voice drifted off when he saw who was calling. He looked at Charlie. “It’s Dr. Mullins. From the lab.”

“Oh.” Charlie’s eyes were wide, his face blank, like he didn’t know what emotion he should be expressing in the moment. “Better answer it, then.”

John took a deep breath, then answered on the fourth ring. “Hello, Katherine.”

“John! I’m so glad I caught you.” She sounded as bubbly as ever, like a glass of poisoned champagne. “I thought you might like to know that I think I’ve figured out that funny little knack issue you told me about.”

John gripped his phone hard enough the case creaked. He looked at Charlie and mouthed this is it. Then he cleared his throat.

“Tell me.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Nineteen: Part Two

 Notes: Hey darlins! More Rivalries for you, yay! A boom we've all been waiting to drop has, well, dropped. What will come of it? We'll find out soon!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Nineteen, Part Two

***

Chapter Nineteen, Part Two

 


Charlie was almost to the gymnasium when Principal Cross came out from a side hall to block his path, standing her ground like a human-shaped icicle and wearing a small smirk on her face. “I was hoping to catch you before you went in,” she said in as close to a pleasant tone as she could probably manage.

“Why?”

Her smile deepened. “I thought you might like to know that Colonel Applegate has filed a formal request for a demonstration duel with you.”

And there it is.

That had happened faster than Charlie thought it would, and of course today was the perfect day to lay it on him, when he was already irritated to hell at her for what she’d helped that Patterson woman get away with this morning.

Principal Cross continued, “Knowing how strongly you feel about following proper channels for this sort of thing, I sent the request on to the superintendent, who agreed that it would be an excellent teachable moment for all the students at this school.”

AKA, I already went so far up the chain of command you can’t work around me. Check.

“So it will be held outside in the baseball field next week,” she finished. “That way everyone can watch.”

Wait…everyone? “You’re talking about turning the colonel and I out for your students like this is some kind of Roman circus?”

“Not at all,” she replied. “I’m trying to solve a problem that you made for me, Mr. Verlaine. A problem of equality. Euryale students want to see what you can do; this is the perfect opportunity for them to do just that. Colonel Applegate has been very agreeable about the whole thing; he’s a charming man, and seems very interested in…testing your skills.”

I’ll bet he does. Charlie frowned. Principal Cross was clearly expecting him to take a pounding, thereby demonstrating to her students—and possibly to their agitated parents—that there was nothing for them to be envious of. And Charlie knew guys like Applegate; he wouldn’t be so cocky if he didn’t have the skills to back it up, unlike some of his students. It was entirely possible that Charlie would get his ass handed to him.

Technically though, the principal couldn’t make him do this due to his medical status. If he wanted to, he could turn this situation on its head by bringing up the fact that he was, in fact, not prepared for a standard duel due to his continued rehabilitation. He could remind her that if she tried to force or intimidate him into doing it, he could sue her for not complying with the ADA. Fuck getting a doctor’s note—he might be able to get the damn general staff on his side for this kind of disrespect, and the idea was compelling. But…

She’ll go after John. Charlie knew she would, knew it like he could see right into that vindictive, viperish head of hers. She was already inclined to make trouble for John thanks to his involvement with Roland, and Charlie didn’t want to give her any more reason to speed things up.

“So?” Principal Cross prodded him after the silence began to stretch. “Can I inform the Colonel that you’ll be accepting the duel for next week, or should I let him know that you’re simply not equal to the task?”

Charlie wasn’t about to let her see him as anything less than perfectly confident. He smiled, sharp and toothy. “Sounds like fun. You’d better rustle up a few more Shields to protect the stands, though.”

She raised one eyebrow. “Oh? You have doubts about your control?”

Charlie laughed. “Wow, you don’t know much about formal duels like this.”

Principal Cross’s smile faded completely away. “I don’t know what you’re referring to, but I assure you I’ve seen plenty of demonstration duels.”

“Not between physical knacks, I assume.” I know. “It’s a legal requirement to have Shields, or some other mechanism, in place to protect observers. And they need to be certified, so I hope you’ve got extra money in the budget to pay them. The best ones require you to cover all travel expenses in addition to their hourly rate.”

Now she actually looked a little worried. “There must be some around here who would volunteer their services…retired military personnel, or—”

“That’s your problem,” Charlie interrupted. “But without them in place, I’m not dueling. Speaking of which, I’m running late for my club now, so…” He moved to walk around her and she didn’t stop him, although the daggers in her eyes were almost sharp enough to cut.

Fuck his life, but he would take his entertainment where he could get it.

John was at dueling club, but he was in the stands talking fervently to a downcast Roland, and Charlie didn’t think now was the right time to interfere. Besides, he really did have a bunch of kids waiting on him, as well as Debra, who’d already separated them into groups.

Club went well—no one was injured, a few kids pulled some neat tricks off with their knacks, and Charlie was successfully able to put the incident with Principal Cross out of his mind for two solid hours before they called it quits. Once the kids had filed out, though—well, except for Roland—there was no point in putting off letting them know.

Charlie helped Debra put their equipment away, but asked her to wait as she moved toward the door. Roland’s foster mom had just picked him up, so it was only him and Debra and John in the cavernous room now.

“Is this about Roland?” John asked the second they were all in talking distance of one another. “Because I swear to god, I’m two seconds away from calling his caseworker and getting another meeting with the judge. If that woman thinks she can—”

“It’s not. I mean, we should talk about that,” Charlie added, “but no. This is about the fact that I’ve been roped into doing a demonstration duel with the other club’s teacher next week. Outside. For all the students to watch. Maybe their parents too.”

Debra and John both looked stunned. John got his breath back first.

“What the ever-fucking fuck?