To Bond With A Mutant
"You know, when I got adopted, I kinda thought I would have my own room."
Sou rolled over on her top bunk and hugged her Mutant Gelert Plushie, nicknamed Tootsie. It looked just like her, with big floppy ears, strange spines on its back, and a worm-like tail. She’d never had a toy that looked like her before; Tootsie made her feel like she could be cute and loveable, too.
Sou’s room shared a dual aesthetic. Her new brother, Doom, and herself had decorated to each of their tastes--her side had Mutant-themed items and cute flowers and bows, including some window decals that made it look like a window-box of flowers grew right outside. Doom’s side tried to be scary and foreboding, with lots of reds and blacks and greys and a dark Axe Guitar leaning up against his desk.
On the bunk below her, Doom, a Darigan Gelert, complained about having to share a room with her. This wasn’t the first time he’d fussed about it. Their new mom, Quizzer, had told them that they were going to try the new room arrangements for now, and reevaluate in one month. Only a week had gone by since they moved in and already Doom seemed to want the trial period to end.
"I like sharing with you," Sou said softly. "I was really lonely in the Pound."
"Oh yeah, and I wasn’t?" Doom said. "Not all of us want to get all cozy with a roommate! Especially not you."
Sou flinched and sat up in bed. She clutched Tootsie to her chest. "What, um, what do you mean?"
The bunk bed shifted as Doom sat up, too. "You really wanna know?" he said acerbically. "Fine. You stink! You’re slimy! And your taste in decorating is completely ridiculous!"
Sou gasped and squeezed Tootsie. "Doom! I do--I do not stink! I wash every day, this is just my natural scent!"
"Yeah, well, your natural scent stinks."
Tears pooled in Sou’s eyes. She blinked them back and felt them trickle into her nasal passages and attempt to drip out her nostrils. She sniffled and whispered, "Stop, stop saying that…"
Doom punched the underside of Sou’s bunk. "I’ll say it as many times as I have to!"
Heat bubbled up inside Sou’s chest, and her paw gripped her pillow. "You leave me alone, Doom! You’re so mean, it’s no wonder you were Stuck in the Pound for four years! Nobody wanted you because you’re super mean!"
Below her, Doom growled deep in his throat. "You take that back," he snarled.
"No!" Sou said. "You’re mean and I hate you!"
"You smelly little--" Doom began, but Sou leaned over the edge of her bunk and whipped her pillow at his face. He tumbled back into his blankets with a muffled shriek. He flung the pillow aside, spluttering and coughing. "That’s nasty! Your pillow smells, too!"
The hot feeling in Sou’s chest erupted in a screech, and she tossed Tootsie aside and swung down from her bunk--straight into Doom’s bunk. She picked up her pillow and swatted him with it again, and he grabbed his own pillow and hit her back. Their insults flew fast and loud for about eleven seconds before the door banged open. Both Gelerts froze.
An Ice Xweetok stood in their doorway, her normally-cold eyes practically on fire. One of their adult sisters--Icy. She had on a bathrobe over her pajamas and slippers to cover her icy paws. Judging by her wild hairdo, she had been fast asleep when Sou and Doom started fighting.
"What is going on in here," Icy barked. "Bedtime was almost an hour ago!"
Sou slipped off Doom’s bunk, hugging her pillow. "He told me I stink!"
Doom punched her in the shoulder. "She said I deserved to be Stuck in the Pound!"
Icy crossed her arms and glared at both of them. "That is unnecessarily cruel and completely unacceptable." Both Sou and Doom looked at each other smugly. Icy snapped her paw and pointed at both of them. "I’m talking to both of you." Their smug looks disappeared. "You know this household is built on love and acceptance. We work out our differences with patience and kindness, and I’m not seeing any of that here!" She put her paws on her hips. "Now, apologize."
Both Gelerts shot each other dirty looks, then turned away from one another and crossed their arms stubbornly. Neither of them were ready to budge. Icy rubbed one paw over her eyes and dragged it all the way down to her chin, pulling her lower lip with it so that her teeth were visible for a moment.
"Ughhhhhhhh Fyora help me," she muttered. "Okay, you two need a serious attitude adjustment. Let’s go." She stepped aside in the doorway and beckoned.
"Go where?" Sou asked.
"It’s the middle of the night!" Doom said.
"Yes!" Icy said. "It’s the middle of the night! And you’ve woken me up! Move it."
When she growled those last words, Sou and Doom knew she was serious. They lowered their ears and trooped meekly into the hallway. The house lay silent; every other bedroom door was closed, with sleeping occupants inside each one. Only Icy’s door and Sou and Doom’s door were open to the darkened hallway.
"Come on," Icy said, leading her two chagrined younger siblings along the hall and downstairs to the main floor.
When Sou had first arrived at the house, she’d been shocked at the massive size of it. The house sprawled in all directions, with tons of rooms and even more bedrooms. Doom did have a point--with all these bedrooms, it wasn’t surprising he’d thought he would get a room to himself. In the daytime, the house was loud and bright and full of footsteps and laughter. The hustle had warmed Sou’s heart after spending most of her young life in the Pound.
But now, everyone was asleep. The house felt spooky at night, all dark and empty. The heat had been turned down and the tile floors felt chilly underpaw. Sou shivered. Icy meant for them to do something, but what?
The Ice Xweetok pulled open the closet door at the bottom of the stairs and took out two jackets. She handed Sou’s jacket to Sou and held the other one out to Doom.
"That’s Sunny’s jacket, not mine," he said.
"Oops," Icy said, shoving it back in the closet. Sou was pretty sure she didn’t even put it back on the hanger. She pulled out a black jacket with red accents. "This is probably yours, right? It’s hard to keep track of the clothes of twenty-one siblings."
"What are we doing?" Sou said, pulling her jacket on. She had to line it up carefully, because it was specially-made with little openings in the back for her shoulder spines to poke through without damaging the material.
"We are not doing anything," Icy said. "You two are taking a walk."
"It’s cold out!" Doom protested.
"I’m made of ice," Icy said. "I have little sympathy. Put your jacket on."
The Darigan Gelert grumbled, but pulled on his jacket. Sou huddled in hers and glanced out the window closest to the front door. Outside, she could see the wide pathway that lead through the center of the activity camp the family ran. Cabins on either side of the pathway housed orphaned ‘pets as they slept peacefully. In twelve hours, those ‘pets would all be racing around the camp, playing games and learning how to canoe and rock climb, but for now, it was quiet and serene.
"Okay," Icy said, her paws on her hips again. "You guys are going to maintain absolute silence until you get to the other side of camp. If you wake up even one of those little kids, I will personally use my freezing touch on your faces."
"Freezing touch?" Sou whimpered.
"That’s not a real thing," Doom said.
"Shush," Icy said. "When you get past the cabins, take the left pathway into the woods. You can be as noisy as you want out there without waking anyone up. But continue into the woods until you get to the waterfall. Have you seen the waterfall?" Sou and Doom shook their heads. "Really? Well, it’s gorgeous, especially in the moonlight like this. When you get there, you have to do something for me." She reached into the closet and pulled out an Iced Wand--an intricate wand with an ice-encrusted flame in the tip. "Point this at the waterfall and say winter’s power."
"...wwwhhyyyy?" Doom said warily, drawing the word out.
"Because I said so," Icy said. "You woke me up, so now you have to do what I say."
Sou took the Iced Wand and shuffled her paws. "Umm...excuse me, Icy...but um, well, is there a point to this?"
"Bonding," Icy said. She opened the front door, and cold air washed into the foyer. "Oh! And I’ll check the wand when you get back. If it hasn’t been activated, you can’t come back to bed." She went around behind Doom and Sou and put a paw on each of their backs. "Now remember, no arguing where you’ll wake up the kids, left path, winter’s power." Icy shoved both the Gelerts out the door. "Bye!"
The door shut behind them.
"I’m not doing this," Doom said.
The lock to the front door clicked behind them. Sou clutched the Iced Wand to her chest and shivered in the chilly late-fall air.
"I think, um, I think we have to," the Mutant Gelert said.
Her brother glared at her. "This is your fault. You attacked me with that pillow!"
Sou waved her hand urgently at him. "Shh shh! Icy said to be quiet!" She huffed a sigh and watched her breath manifest in a puff of steam. "Please, let’s just get this over with and go back to bed."
"Fine," Doom said. "But I’m not bonding with you."
"Well, well fine," Sou said. "I won’t bond with you, either."
They stepped off the front porch and trooped down the pathway between the camp cabins. Neither of them spoke. Partly because Icy had threatened that freezing touch, and partially because, at least for Sou, talking seemed useless. Doom was mean, he deserved everything she’d said. Did Icy expect her to apologize? Doom certainly wasn’t going to apologize first, so why should she?
The two Gelert siblings maintained their silence until they were past the cabins, on the far side of camp. Here, the wide pathway split into three, each leading away into the forest that surrounded the camp.
"Left," Doom said simply, and took the trail Icy had told them to take.
Sou followed. Now that they were beyond the cabins, she felt compelled to at least say something. "It’s um, it’s cold tonight, huh?"
"No kidding," Doom said. "It’s almost the Month of Celebrating, of course it’s cold." He kicked at a twig in the trail as they walked. "Stupid Icy. I hate her! So much for patience and acceptance, she locked us out here!"
"I guess we really annoyed her," Sou said.
"Yeah, and I know what it’s like to be annoyed," Doom said, and glared at her.
Sou reached out and shoved Doom’s shoulder. He stumbled and came back to slam his shoulder into her side, then screamed as one of her spines pierced his jacket and poked him.
"You hurt me!" he said.
"No, no you--you hurt yourself!" Sou stammered.
"Ugh!" Doom said. "You’re so gross! You stabbed me with your Mutant spines and now I’m probably gonna turn into a Mutant!"
Sou gasped and balled up one fist--the other paw was still holding the Iced Wand. "It’s-it’s not contagious! I’m not diseased! I can’t believe you’re so mean after spending four years in the Pound. I was only there for a year and I’m super nice!"
Doom stopped and turned to face her, his muzzle curled in a sneer. "Seriously? You think you’re so nice? You told me I deserved to be Stuck in the Pound for my attitude! And you never ask whether I want your stupid flower decor all over the room. I can’t even look out the window without seeing your little cartoon flowers! It’s our window, we should both have a say in what goes on it."
Sou’s brow furrowed in a frown. "That’s, that’s what--that’s what this is about? My flowers? I like pretty things. I spent most of my life in a plain, boring Pound cage, I just want to see bright colors!"
"I spent four years in there," Doom said. "I just want a little freedom to do what I want!"
"Freedom?" Sou said. She had to think about this. After being in an ugly cage, and being told she was ugly by everyone who visited--and even having "ugly" in her full name, Im_is_so_ugly_no_adopt--Sou wanted to see life and beauty all around her. That’s why she decorated with flowers, and why she couldn’t wait until springtime rolled around. But Doom...Doom most valued his freedom. And freedom for him meant putting up dark red curtains and playing his Axe Guitar late into the night. Both of them wanted something that had been missing from their lives in the years they’d spent in the pound.
"You….you like your freedom," Sou repeated slowly.
"Uhhh yeah, you Slorgclops, that’s what I just said."
Sou tapped her paw against the handle of the Iced Wand while she pondered this. "Okay...and you feel like, like, you feel like I’m in the way of your freedom."
Doom blinked a few times at her. "I dunno. Yeah, I guess."
"So you don’t hate me," Sou said. "You don’t hate rooming with me."
"Yes I do!" Doom said stubbornly. "I hate your stupid flowers!"
Sou shook her head, and her wormy ears flopped side to side. "No--no, no you hate getting your freedoms restricted. If I put up a flower sticker on the wall, it means you can’t put a skull sticker there."
"What, are you a counselor now?" Doom asked. "You think you can analyze me?"
Sou shrugged. She wasn’t a counselor, but she was still pretty sure she was right.
Doom looked away and shoved his paws in the pockets of his jacket. "Let’s just go," he said. "We’ll find the waterfall and activate that wand or whatever, and go back to bed."
The Gelerts started walking again. Sou kept pace with Doom, hugging the Iced Wand to her chest.
"Um," she said after a few minutes. "I’m, um, I’m-I’m sorry I said you deserve to be Stuck in the Pound. Nobody deserves something, nobody deserves that."
"I hate my stupid name," Doom said.
"Really?" Sou said. "But you’re named after, after a-a really cool hound creature from a popular gaming franchise."
"My name," Doom said. "Is what got me Stuck in the Pound. If it wasn’t for the H-O at the beginning of my full name, I never would have gotten Stuck. I could have been adopted within days! I’m a Darigan Gelert, for Fyora’s sake! I’m super cool." He scooped up a rock from the trail and threw it as hard as he could. It bounced off the trunk of a tree and clattered back into the pathway ahead. "But noooo. My full name was on the paperwork with the H-O, and the H-O section is the restricted section. Nobody knew I was even there until they randomly searched for my entire name, underscores and all."
Sou stopped and reached out to lay her hand on Doom’s shoulder. He stopped too, but didn’t make eye contact. "I don’t like, don’t like my name, either," Sou said. "My-my name also kept me in the Pound. People came to see me, but when they saw my name, they thought I wasn’t valuable enough to take home. I know Quizzer--um, mom, I mean mom. I know mom likes my name, and she loves me. But I still feel really insec-insecure about being called ugly, or smelly, or…"
Doom rubbed the back of his neck and tugged on one long ear. "Yeah, uh, sorry about that. I know you wash and stuff, and it’s just a natural odor...I shouldn’t make fun of you for it." He shrugged. "And I’m used to it now, anyway. It doesn’t really smell bad to me."
Sou smiled and shuffled her paws. "We kinda, um, have kinda a lot in common," she said.
Her Darigan Gelert brother shoved his hands into his jacket pockets again. "Yeah, I guess so. Maybe that’s why we’re roommates."
"Do you, you want to maybe--maybe talk about changing the stickers on the window?" Sou asked.
Doom shrugged. "They’re okay. But can I pick the curtains for the window?"
Sou nodded eagerly. Compromise! She pulled Doom into a hug. He went to hug her too, but hesitated.
"Um...your spines…" he said.
"Just move slow," Sou said.
He slowly put his arms around her and hugged her back.
"...this doesn’t mean we’re bonding," he said.
"No," Sou said, giggling. "Of course not."
Doom released himself from the hug and gestured to the Iced Wand. "We can’t go to bed until we do that winter power thing at the waterfall. Race you there!"
He gave her a shove and took off running down the trail. Sou windmilled her arms to catch her balance and bolted after him. "No fair! You can’t do that!"
They ran pell-mell down the trail, laughing and shouting at each other. Good thing they were far into the woods, or they would have awoken the entire camp. Cold air seared Sou’s lungs as she panted, trying to catch up with her brother. The stones underpaw began to feel less and less like sharp obstacles and more like small lumps. She must be getting used to them. Just a few minutes later, they burst from the trees into a frosty glade, at the center of which lay a pool of glistening water and a roaring waterfall.
Doom and Sou stopped side-by-side to stare at the magnificent sight. Moonlight glinted on the silvery waterfall as it cascaded into the pool, forming frothy little waves and ripples that washed over the surface of the water. The sound of the falls curled up in their ears and took a nap, snoring all the while in a steady, peaceful rhythm. Sou’s entire body tingled at the sensation.
"Wow…" Doom said breathlessly.
"Yeah," Sou agreed. She held out the Iced Wand to him. "Want to try this?"
Doom put his paw on the wand, right below Sou’s paw. "Together," he said.
Sou nodded. Together, they held up the Iced Wand, pointed it at the waterfall, and said, "Winter’s power!"
The Iced Wand activated. A burst of fiery ice erupted from the wand’s tip and shot out at the waterfall. When it hit the pouring water, a crackling explosion resounded through the glade. A frozen shockwave struck Doom and Sou and sent them stumbling back several paces. Ice traveled from the site of the explosion all the way up the waterfall and down into the pool, freezing the water, the ripples, the foam, every droplet in a rapid burst of icy power. The moonlight refracted in every crystal. Sparkles and rainbows lit up the frozen pool like myriad candles. Sou shivered from the sheer beauty of it. At her side, Doom gave a bark of incredulous laughter.
"I can’t believe it!" he said. "That was so cool!"
"Cool," Sou said, giggling. "Because it’s ice."
Doom snorted. "No pun intended. That was just so...so...I feel lighter than air! That was amazing!"
"It’s so beautiful," Sou whispered.
"Beauty, huh?" Doom said. "So I feel light and free, and you see the beauty. I guess we both got what we wanted out of this."
Sou smiled. "You’re right! Do you think Icy knew all along this would help us?"
Doom snorted. "Icy? She was just cranky and gave us the wand as something to do. There’s no way she knew exactly what would happen."
"Doom," Sou said. "Do you want to come back tomorrow and go ice-skating?"
Doom grinned. "That sounds like a very freeing activity."
Sou grinned back. "In a very beautiful place."
Doom held out his paw to Sou for a pawshake. "So. Roomies?"
Sou took his paw, then yanked her brother into another hug. "Yeah," she said. "Roomies."