It’s been some time since we visited Sheryl and Joseph. I needed time to think about where things were and where they end… And this will be the last part of Acceptance… While the story of Sheryl and Joseph for now comes to a pause, their story really isn’t ever over… Is it?
Acceptance – Part VIII
There was silence in the room as a hand held a tea cup and fidgeted with it. The hand belonged to Sheryl, who found herself set among those that had helped shape her life. There was Tera, the Queen of the Succubi, looking … perfect.
Tera always was perfect … at least to Sheryl’s eyes. She was everything that Sheryl wanted to be: in control, understanding, complete. Tera had so much, was so much, that it gave Sheryl pause to wonder why it was that Tera would spend so much of her time looking after … everyone—including Sheryl herself.
Next to her was Ashe. She came from nothing, made something of herself. Hers was a firm hand when needed for those who needed her. Sheryl wanted to be like her, to have it in herself to do and be what she was and not what passing circumstances and urges led her to be, to have the strength to make the right choices for the right reasons.
Just moving away with the teapot was Celeste: once lost, hurt, and tortured, then freed and trusted to be more than she was, to be more than anyone had expected her to be—even Sheryl herself.
Seated beside Sheryl on the bed they had shared was Joseph. She was “Mistress” to him. He was the one she had promised much to, so that now she felt that she had been foolish and not kept her part of the promise. He was the one she would miss most of all. She could see out of the corner of her eye how he looked at her still, and it made her heart ache knowing.
She looked at the tea for a moment, the liquid swirling around in the cup slightly as she fought to keep herself in check. It would not be ‘proper’ to come apart at the seams in front of all of them, but the silence was starting to become more than she could take.
Another one of Tera’s proverbs came out of the blue: Be the one to start the conversation, and the one to finish it.
“I have to go.”
She caught Joseph beginning to speak and her free hand touched his thigh softly: “No, please let me say this.”
The look in Joseph’s eyes spoke volumes, but he fell silent as Celeste returned to sit at Sheryl’s feet, looking up towards her once more. Sheryl couldn’t bring herself to look at either of them, and instead continued to watch the tea in her cup as she continued. “I am not, truly, a Mistress. I did not keep my word when I should have. I have made many mistakes and errors and … and I do not wish … I never wished … to put anyone at risk. I didn’t think things through when I offered my hand to Celeste. I did not consider when Joseph called me “Mistress” and I accepted. I should have seen what might have happened and …”
Sheryl’s voice trailed off because Tera raised a finger into the air. Sheryl tilted her head down and Tera took that as tepid permission. “It is in the best interests of everyone that all of the cards come out to play. After all of that is said, then … then we’ll see what you have to say, Sheryl.”
Tera laced her fingers together and Sheryl shivered slightly. It was the sign that Tera was going to say some important things and she’d better pay attention … Even if the words probably were that she was disappointed in her. “Yes, Tera.”
“Both Joseph and Celeste are aware of Sheryl’s and my true nature, and Ashe … well, she has a fairly good idea at the moment.”
Ashe looked at Tera and nodded slightly.
“Then, with that out of the way, there’s no need to hide certain things, is there?”
With that, Tera’s red horns and tail shimmered into view, and, a moment later, so did Sheryl’s own pink ones.
Ashe looked at the two of them, commenting: “So you are …”
Tera nodded: “… succubi, yes.”
Ashe smiled: “I wish I could take a picture. There’s a certain professor I know whose mind I could completely blow.”
Tera tilted her head to the right and looked at Ashe: “We’d rather you didn’t speak of …”
Ashe nodded, looking serious: “Oh, I wouldn’t. But I have so many questions to ask.”
Tera smiled, slightly, then turned back to Sheryl, who had managed a sip of her tea, “I shall be first, I think, for obvious reasons. Sheryl has done wrong by me.”
Sheryl winced at those words, but kept silent. When Tera had made up her mind there was no changing it. She wondered what the accommodations were like in the Realm’s clock tower as Tera continued to speak: “… or at least she believes that. She holds herself to her promises, and the largest of these, and the one that I know very well, is that she holds herself to a standard that she feels she cannot attain. She has goals for herself that we all strive for and … it is not always possible to make them real.”
Sheryl was confused. She had done wrong, letting others know what she was. That should be more than enough to …
“She wants to keep all those she loves from harm. That includes every one of us in this room and every single soul outside those doors. Any hurt that befalls them she feels, and that takes a small part of her away.”
Sheryl couldn’t argue that point, remembering looking into her mirror and feeling … lost.
“Ashe, it is not your fault, and I am not blaming you for what happened. But Sheryl was happy with Joseph and was content. I know that she would have tried to fade away with Joseph and have that in her life. She had the honor of being his Mistress and she held that honor with all that she is. As any of us do.”
Ashe was about to speak, but Tera’s tail drew around from behind her and the tip touched over Ashe’s lips.
“You will have your chance soon enough. I won’t be long. That goes for you, Celeste and Joseph. Allow me to finish, please.”
The nods around the room where measured but accepting as Tera’s tail moved once more behind her, the tip looking over her left shoulder as she continued to speak.
“But Joseph found that the joy he felt with Sheryl as Mistress was … perfect. She accepted him as he was, she cared for him, opened herself to him, and, in the end, trusted him with the knowledge of who she was and what she was. When he learned that you were being forced out, that all those you held were to be lost, that was too much to bear on himself.”
The look in Joseph’s eyes was haunting as Tera continued: “He took it upon himself to speak about Sheryl. About his belief that she was someone he trusted with his life and that she was, if not a Mistress like you, Ashe, still worthy of being given the honor of Mistress. You, Ashe, found out about that and you offered her the role. She could have said no, but she didn’t.”
Tera looked at Celeste as she continued: “Then you came into the picture. You were lost, afraid, and being forced into something that you did not want to do. No one in your life ever trusted you before. Ever.”
Celeste did not look at Tera, but nodded slightly.
“You reminded Sheryl of herself a long time ago. She saw in you the promise of what you could be if someone said they loved you, trusted you, and wanted you for being you; not making you what you weren’t but seeing you as you are.”
Celeste had a quizzical look, but did not look away from Sheryl.
“As I see it, three lives came together and then the universe went in the direction it wanted to. You each were pushed and pulled in directions that were never expected and yet you survived. So who am I to judge? I’m not about to. As far as I am concerned, it is Sheryl’s choice as much as it is each of yours where things go from here.”
Sheryl’s tail fell onto the bed with a soft thump as she understood that Tera wasn’t angry at her. Tera wasn’t disappointed, either—which would have been far worse. Tera was … Tera. Sheryl should have known better than she did.
Tera looked at Ashe: “The floor is yours.”
Ashe looked uncomfortable as she began to speak: “If anyone is going to take the blame, I will. I had heard whispers before I gave Sheryl my place as Mistress. I knew that …” she hesitated, then continued: “… that he was planning to force my hand and take everyone from me. I knew that his resources were far more than mine, and I just didn’t have it in me to fight him anymore. I’d had too many years of being pressed on, and I was looking for a way out.”
Sheryl had a thin smile as she looked at Ashe, who continued: “Sheryl: I knew that she had been the one that had turned us around, helped anyone that needed help, did whatever she could, because that was who she was. But most of all, she was trusted. I knew that she was more trusted than I was, and that made my choice for me.”
The smile had become a frown, but Sheryl said nothing.
“Joseph did not know I was here when you arrived that first night. I came in some time before you did and I had a long talk with everyone there. I asked them to understand why I accepted you as Mistress. I explained that I would give you my position and I would offer myself to you every bit as much as everyone else there.”
Ashe closed her eyes as the memories came back: “You cannot hide anything from those that accept you. They all knew what was at risk, and they accepted the choice I made. I accepted the choice they made. When it was over I was there, but you were young, strong and I felt you could defend yourself. But then Celeste came and …”
Celeste waited a moment, but then: “… I was a tool. Actually, a fool, when I think about it now. I was used and thrown away time and time again. I didn’t see myself as being worth anything, and never had. I just made it day to day, survived, and didn’t expect anything more than that.”
Her eyes did not waver from Sheryl: “Then came you. I had no idea what it was like to be trusted, to be cared about, to be able to be with someone whom I wanted to be Mistress, not someone who demanded it. I learned that it was my choice who I called that. For the first time, I wanted, desperately, for you to be that.”
Sheryl looked back at Celeste—it was the honorable thing to do—as she continued: “I offered and you didn’t hesitate. I never understood why that was. I still don’t. But you trusted me to be here. You trusted me when he took Joseph. I saw you weren’t invincible. But you were Mistress and you were …” Celeste smiled: “… well, at the time, I thought you were human. At least until Joseph took me aside and asked me one very important question.”
She looked at Joseph: “He asked me if I would protect your secret with my life. He told me you had a secret that no one could know, but if he was gone that you would need someone. You would need me. You could not, would not, survive without having a shoulder to lean on and a voice to speak when needed. It was the first time I realized what it meant to be that close to someone. Of course, I said I would. And I learned.”
She held Sheryl’s eyes again: “I learned that the impossible was possible. That one thing, that one thing alone, changed me, you know. I understood what you saw in me. You saw that anything was possible for me. That I mattered to you as much as Joseph did in his own way.”
Then, finally, it was Joseph’s turn. “You did not break your promise, Mistress.”
Sheryl was going to remind him of how she told him, the night before, that, in the morning, she was no longer his Mistress, but he continued: “I remember having this conversation with you before, you know. Explaining that you didn’t have the right to just give up and walk away. I … we … all of us gave you that honor.”
“You can’t force me to stay, Joseph.”
He sighed: “No, and we’re not. But you don’t just stop being Mistress because you leave. You stop when we both agree that it is time. It isn’t.”
“Of course it is.”
He smiled: “You know, everyone else had a chance to talk, may I, please?”
Properly chastised, Sheryl stopped talking and remained silent as he continued: “When I was taken, when I was alone, the only thing that I had was the knowledge that you were my Mistress and you would not abandon me. I knew that you would hurt and I worried that you would become that other self you talked about. I never told you, but I saw her once.”
Sheryl just looked at him, she didn’t know what to say.
“She … frightens me. She is not at all like you, but she is. She appeared our first night when you revealed yourself and when I first saw her I didn’t understand. She was so dominant, so frighteningly so: dangerous, powerful, possessive. She asked if I was worthy of being trusted; if my soul was worthy. I had to look into her black eyes and in their depths I saw how selfish I was. It was about me: my wants, my needs, my wishes.”
Sheryl shivered as her tail moved from behind her and placed its heart-shaped tip over Joseph’s chest.
“I told her that I wasn’t, that you deserved better, and I would go. She wouldn’t let me. She put everything to me—all that she was, all that you were, everything. She told me of what happened to you, to her. Then she bared my soul, showed me who I was and … and I was wanting. I wanted you. I wanted to be yours. I wanted … I wanted you to want me, too.”
Sheryl’s tail moved from his chest to touch under his chin, making Joseph look at Sheryl before moving away again.
“She told me that I had to accept that you were Mistress, but you were also hurt, needful, and wanting in your own way. I needed to accept that you needed me as much as I needed you. I accepted. I’ve never stopped accepting. I hope you can accept that, too.”
Sheryl was quiet, considering, then she began: “I can accept that Tera isn’t angry. I can accept that Ashe did what she felt was right. I have problems with accepting that I should be Mistress for you … for everyone here. I feel like I have done wrong, and it bothers me. I’m worried that I’ll make a mistake and you will pay or Celeste will pay or one of the others will pay for it.”
Tera had steepled her fingers and was tapping the tip of her nose, but said nothing and Ashe just looked at her own hands in her lap where they rested. But Joseph and Celeste? They both just looked at Sheryl and she withered in their gaze, but continued: “I’ve made mistakes. They’ve weighed on me. I lost my joy, my happiness for being … me. I wanted to make others happy and taste that joy. When I can … could … those were the moments that made everything worthwhile.”
She looked at Celeste: “I was happy when you became the woman you are—the person you are. You showed everyone who doubted you that you were someone special. I saw that when you came through the door. I wanted to see that, have you see it.”
Celeste smiled and the warmth in her soul was so clear to Sheryl.
She turned to Joseph: “All I wanted was for you to be happy. I knew you were, I felt that, and it kept me from feeling the darkness when it came to our door. Then I lost you, Joseph, and all I had was the pain: pain of not knowing you were alright; pain of not being able to find you.”
She shook her head: “I didn’t understand why you would trust our secret to Celeste. But now? Knowing you saw … her? I do. She would have done … things. You knew that, and having Celeste there when you couldn’t be if something happened? It makes so much sense now.”
She closed her eyes and then continued: “I’m flawed. I’m not anything like Tera or Ashe. I’m a mess, and I’ll always be that. The best thing is for me to go, to leave you both free, and your lives are better for my going away.”
Joseph took her hand in his: “Doesn’t really matter, does it, how flawed you are? You are, still, the only one that I call “Mistress”, the only one I ever will. Leave and you still are my Mistress. Stay and you still are my Mistress.”
Sheryl smiled: “Truly?”
Joseph touched her cheek and kissed her lips softly. Then, to Sheryl’s surprise, Celeste drew close and did the same before Joseph asked: “Will you stay if we ask you?”
Sheryl could only tell the truth: “I don’t know.”
They took her hands—one each—asking: “Then please, Mistress, please remain here with us?”
Sheryl could only offer: “I’ll think about it.”
They both looked at her with hope and Sheryl found that her answer was already there, that she was going to stay. She just couldn’t put the words out, but they knew. Somehow they just did knew.
Tera stood and offered her hand to Ashe: “We shall be on our way, then. You three have things to work out. Oh, and Sheryl?”
As she led Ashe out of the room, Tera called back, as her tail pointed towards Sheryl’s mirror by the door: “It’s nice to see that you have accepted who you are.”
Sheryl looked into the mirror and saw herself, horns, tail and all, with two souls who loved and needed her as much as she did them, and she also found acceptance in herself.
And that question that Tera had posed so long ago became very clear … Acceptance is not submission, it is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation, then deciding what you are going to do about it. So, what are you going to do?
The answer, Sheryl finally knew, was … Be the best I can be … always.