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Pineapple 7, Soft Serve 20/50

Author: rustydragonfly
Challenge: Pineapple 7 (you've got a friend), Soft Serve 20/50 (Buttered Popcorn 11: menagerie)
Toppings: chopped nuts, whipped cream (the first section), cookie crumbs (various scenes from the MFS main plotline), gunny bunnies (trope_bingo round 1 card: au: daemons)
Wordcount: 2272
Rating: teen and up
Story: Manifestations (Daemon AU)
Summary: When Jen's daemon settles, he feels he's let his family down. But when his blood is tarnished and a quite different creature threatens their bond, they discover how close they really are.
Notes: The daemon concept is taken from the His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman. This is a fusion story and though I borrowed the idea, I tweaked it somewhat to fit and the setting and characters are my own. This fic is not intended to be a part of the HDM multiverse - it's just MFS retold with daemons. I do have mod permission to post this and I believe it falls under the "elements of an existing canon" rule here, but should you feel this is unsuitable I'll be happy to take it down.

Bonus sketch!



“I have the feeling,” Jen said, as he looked down, “that you’re not going to change any more.”

His daemon’s long ears flattened at his words. “No,” she said. “You don’t like it?”

“No!” Jen exclaimed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.” He laid his hand on her head. Her fur was a dark, greyish tone, and so soft under his fingers. “It’s only... it’s not what we want that matters. It’s what he wants. I’m not sure Father’s going to like the idea of one of his family having a rabbit for a daemon.”

“If you ask me, Father is very unimaginative.”

“You can’t say that!”

“But I did, didn’t I?” She rested her front paws on his knee, and he could feel her claws through his clothing, though her touch was gentle. “Whatever he thinks about us, he will have to deal with me. It’s not his place to insist on what I am.”

“You sound like Dhaymin.” Jen scratched her behind the ears. It was not that anything felt wrong about how she’d settled. She’d been a wolf much of the time, just like Father’s daemon, when he wanted him to be proud. But she’d been a wolf less and less, lately. He still remembered when Dhaymin’s settled as a muscular, brindle pit-dog. Father hadn’t been sure of her, either - what was a dog, for a ruler? - but he warmed up to her. She was strong and powerful, all things his, apparently, wasn’t.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, and rubbed her head against his hand.

“It’s not your fault,” Jen said.

-

Dhaymin had slipped back into unconsciousness again, but the pit-dog that lay by his side still watched with half-lidded eyes. It had been a few days since the hunt, maybe three or four. Jen wasn’t sure exactly. He could try to count the sunrises, but every time he always missed one, or counted one twice. He lived and slept in a hard wooden chair by the window, until he grew numb from sitting so long. Sometimes, Dhaymin stayed awake, long enough to know what had happened and to tell Jen he was afraid. Jen didn’t have it in his breath to say what he was afraid of.

The dog daemon’s eyes slid shut, and she lay still with a paw draped over Dhaymin’s chest. Jen’s sat in his lap, and he idly stroked her head, just as he did the day she settled.

She looked up. The pit-dog’s brow furrowed as her ears perked too. Jen couldn’t hear what they did, but through a crack in the door, something moved, a momentary block against the light.

A chill passed through his body, and he held his daemon tighter. There was still no sound he could make out, and certainly no trace of another human, but deep inside, he knew that wasn’t one of the holding’s cats that passed by the door. His mother’s daemon was a huge, heavily furred beast of a cat, dark brown and marbled with black swirls, and he prowled the halls many nights without her by his side. Jen was not a complete stranger to daemons that walked far from their humans. Bala’s could do the same, and he remembered those long gone days when he watched in awe as her daemon, in the form of a rock dove, vanished into the sky with a clatter of wings. His own daemon became a bird at the sight of it and tried to do the same, but every time the pain became too much and she returned, as they promised one another they would never do anything so dreadful again. Bala told him it was what happened to those who came from the cold and lived, and if fortune was with him, he’d never be able to do the same.

He should have been used to the sight, after seeing Bala and Majiv’s daemons roam where they willed, but he was not.

Dhaymin stirred, and though he did not wake, his daemon’s eyes flicked open. “Him, is it?” she murmured. Her voice was deep and thick.

“Yes,” Jen said. It felt odd to speak to her and not Dhaymin, but she fell asleep again at his word, and he was left alone with himself. A few moments later, his own daemon wriggled from his grasp and jumped to the floor, rearing up on her hind legs as though wary of an approaching predator.

“When are you going to tell them?” she said.

Jen didn’t need to ask what she meant. When he thought of it, his shoulder itched. He resisted the urge to scratch, fearing he’d only break open the wound and draw blood again. “I don’t know if it’s true.”

Her nose twitched, and she dropped down to all fours. “No,” she said. “But you think it is.”

-

“The hall is burning,” said Jen. He wondered, if he described the scene, if he might believe what he was seeing, even though he did so on Dhaymin’s behalf. His brother’s daemon strained to see through the forest, and she kept even closer to his side these days, but Dhaymin could not use her eyes. She could tell him what lay ahead, but Jen needed to speak and remind himself that what he saw down there was real. “Little points of light in the dark, like-”

His daemon nudged his ankle and stamped the ground. Jen fell silent and strained to listen. Something was moving out there in the undergrowth, unseen in the night, and Jen realised, in a flash of dread that ran through his veins in an instant, that they hadn’t run far enough.

The scuffle at his feet broke out before he could see what was happening. He heard a screech and a hiss, and dirt and leaves kicked up, and he raised his lamp and cast around, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on. But his hands trembled, and he could not hold the lamp still. Its light rocked back and forth, unable to focus. His breath came in quick gasps, his heart pounded to keep up. He could hear Dhaymin calling his name, his pit-dog daemon growling, but it was all distorted, as if he’d retreated so far into his own head that even here and now was too far away.

And then his faded as soon as it had come over him, and the lamp slowed in his hand, and the scene below came into focus under its light.

His mother’s daemon sat in a crouch, teeth bared, tail raised and fluffed to twice its width. For a second Jen thought he was about to strike, but then he saw his own daemon standing his ground against a creature twice, maybe three times her size, her ears laid flat over her back and her claws digging furrows in the dirt.

“Go,” she said. “We don’t belong to you any more.”

And at her words, the cat daemon turned his back, and slunk away toward the burning building in the distance.

“Did what I think happened just happen?” Dhaymin said.

“I... think it did?” Jen bent down to pick up his daemon, and she responded with a nuzzle to his hand.

“Come on then, you silly idiot,” Dhaymin said, giving Jen’s arm a gentle tug. “We’re going to get you some help.”

-

Jen breathed in steam and held his teacup tight in his hands, while his daemon, tucked away in his coat, pressed close to enjoy the warmth. A late autumn frost lay over Amtka’s smashed and abandoned town, covering the ruins in tiny white crystals.

You didn’t hurt me and I won’t hurt you, was what she’d told him. He wondered how much of her offer of safety and shelter would continue to stand if she knew what he was. Then, he wondered how much she suspected, but wouldn’t say.

Jen had his own questions. The beast linked to Amtika by blood taint wasn’t with her now. Serpentine taxraks hated the cold, he knew that. The last time he’d seen it they’d been underground, in a cellar with air so thick and musty he felt as if he could chew it, and it sat by Amtika’s side like a second daemon. Right now, she could have passed for a normal person. Her stoat daemon, now part way into his ermine coat, was curled around her neck like a fancy scarf, and Jen could not shake the feeling that his little black eyes saw everything.

“I did have a question,” Jen said, eventually.

“You’re new, aren’t you? Ask.”

Jen mulled over his words. He’d seen plenty of the tarnished, but always as an outsider. There’d never been any questions to ask beyond “how do I kill them?” And their daemons, feral as they might be, were still daemons. Once, he’d seen his father chain up a tarnished man while his daemon took the struggling creature in her jaws. All they’d had to do was walk away, and it was over.

He’d never had a chance to stand and talk to one of them, let alone ask questions of her, while they drank tea together on a frosty autumn morning.

“How does it feel?” was what he settled for.

“You are new,” she said, with a smile.

“I don’t even know where it is,” Jen said. That was a lie. When he lay at night, midway between sleep and wakefulness, sometimes he could feel his being shift. If he looked now to the west, he could see a mountain ridge. It was out there, picking its way down rocky slopes as scree tumbled from beneath its claws, seeking prey in the forest. And if he didn’t think too hard about it, he could pretend he’d imagined it all.

“No,” she said. “Not yet. You’ll know, soon enough. You’ll know when it finds its way into the cracks between you and her.”

“I didn’t know,” he said, and in his coat, his daemon laid her head against his chest.

“I’m here when it happens, you understand.”

Jen’s tea had grown colder, and the steam had dwindled to a few wisps. “Thank you,” he said, and he did not mean a single breath of it. He wondered if she knew.

-

Jen breathed out, and a cloud of mist formed. The rush had worn away, and now every cut and bruise, all over his body, came creeping back. He felt on the verge of falling asleep, and he drifted in that hazy state, unaware of time passing outside, for there was nothing to tell the hour by but the stars, and hidden away in here, he could not do that.

The beast lay sleeping beside him. Their tiny shelter lay underneath a rocky overhang, barely large enough to fit them all, and he could feel the creature’s hair against his skin, and smell the earthy, musty scent of its body when he breathed in. But it was warm in here, and secluded, and he could return in the morning and hope that nobody but Dhaymin would ever know where he’d been.

In the moments when he felt a little more awake, he flexed his fingers to get the blood flowing, and scratched his daemon between the ears as he always did. If she is the same, he thought, I can’t fear.

The beast shifted and woke, raising its head to peer out of the den, and then looked down at the pair. The rabbit daemon bared her teeth in response. Jen nearly missed it in the dark, but he saw just enough movement in the starlight to know what had happened. She spoke wordlessly, in a gesture that spoke to man, beast, and daemon alike.

I was here first, and you will have to pass by me.

-

The first time it happened, Jen nearly didn’t notice. Dhaymin stormed off, and his daemon snapped at the air in warning when Jen’s tried to follow. Jen didn’t bother to look when Dhaymin slammed the door, and it was only when the echoes faded and he felt the tug in his chest that he saw what had happened.

She felt it too. She sat by Dhaymin’s door, reared onto her hind legs, and looked back over her shoulder at Jen. “Did you feel that?”

“Yes,” he said.

She was several paces away, at the far end of the room.

“Did you know we could do that?” She dropped down to all fours and loped back to his side.

Without hesitation, he scooped her up and held her close, feeling her soft fur on his cheek. “No,” he said, his fingers smoothing her pelt. He looked back at the door and, with slow and deliberate strides, walked toward it, counting the paces as he went. When he reached the door and looked back, neither of them needed comment.

“Don’t go anywhere,” he said.

“Jen,” she said, “I wouldn’t leave if you asked me to.”

He scratched her between the ears again, and pulled out a chair, gazing out over the (belated) breakfast table. He should probably eat, or at least take a drink to calm himself down.

“Jen.” The rabbit daemon hopped from his arms and onto the table top, and stopped to sniff at a tray of dried berries. “What’s on the bookshelves?”

“Didn’t look. Why are you asking?”

She settled into position in the table, tucking her paws under her body. “Because too many things are breaking,” she said, “and so what I think you and I need right now, more than anything, is a good story to read.”

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
bookblather
Jan. 25th, 2013 07:50 am (UTC)
Okay, Jen and his daemon are possibly the cutest things ever. Just... the pair of them, I want to snuggle them both. And I love how protective she is of him, standing up to Majiv's daemon and to the beast, because rabbits can be fierce too. Lovely job.
rustydragonfly
Jan. 28th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
That's exactly why she's a rabbit! I did get really attached to her in the course of writing his. I've been poking at the next bit of Arc 9 and keep getting annoyed Jen doesn't have a taking rabbit to poke him out of being a sulkybutt. He's just got to do it himself, I guess.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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