Chapter 19: Shahin
Have some courtesy, Have some sympathy, and some taste.

Excluding minotaurs, vampires, and giants, the second week of Addergoole had been almost normal. Friday evening found the three of them sprawled in Shahin's room, studiously ignoring their homework and bemoaning the lack of subterranean nightlife.

"There has to be something to do," Shahin sighed, frowning at a twisted stitch in her knitting.

"What, another dance?" Yngvi asked dryly. "That worked out so well last time."

Ayla blushed and turned to study her toenails intently. Shahin had seen her talking with Ioanna, a sexy girl with astonishingly purple eyes and an equally shocking taste in wardrobe colors, quite a few times during the past week, but she had yet to "bring her home," as it were, to meet them.

"I didn't think it was so bad," she said softly, and then shone with a brief, mysterious smile. "Neither did Sheen."

Now it was her turn to blush, and concentrate furiously on the click of her ebony needles (a gift from her mother, who had been glad her wayward daughter had at least one hobby she could understand, even it if did involve a lot of black silk yarn). She hadn't "brought home" Emrys yet, either, but he had been rather hard to find, and she'd been unwilling to actively track him down. Let him stay away, if he was going to be like that.

"Yeah, well." And now Vee looked uncomfortable, flipping open his trig book with more force than the thing really needed. "There is more to life than dating."

Shahin looked up at him, at the intense frown on his lips as he stared at the book. Something was wrong, clearly, and she wasn’t sure it was his normal prissiness about all things girl. But he was resolutely not looking at her, as if the equations he was staring at were immensely engrossing, and the shadows cast across his face made it hard to see…
    ...The lash fell down hard across his back, across Yngvi's back, but, no, it wasn't him, it was an older, more grizzled version of him, dirty and scruffy and hung with heavy chains, no, as the lash fell again, it was a young man with black hair, the collar he wore too heavy and too big for his slender neck, his back already scarred from previous beatings. He fought not to cry out as the lash struck his back, sending waves of pain through his already-tortured body. He struggled to stay standing, even when the leather cut into his thighs, into the back of his knees, even though he knew it was a foregone conclusion: eventually he'd fall.

    He staggered, almost lost his balance, and the leather slapped against his calves. "Worthless," she sneered, and that was worse than the pain. She could, and would, beat him for every imagined infraction, but to call him worthless when all he was, was what she had made him... he turned to snarl at her, and the next stroke of the lash caught him across the stomach.

    He gasped, and finally stumbled, bending his back, knowing himself as worthless as she thought he was as he fell to one knee. His back was on fire, every tattoo alight, and he dropped his head, not to make her stop (nothing would make her stop), but because she was right.

    And his arched back, with the writhing tattoos of flame slowly fading to dead coals, etched itself into her vision, and she knew him for Emrys.
She cried out angrily. How dare someone hurt him like that! She blinked, realizing she had dropped her knitting, as a traitorous thought snaking through the back of her head suggested that he had looked awful tempting, on his knees, submitting.

But not to someone else. No. She never wanted to see him bend knee to anyone. Except maybe to her.

“Shahin?” Yngvi was frowning at her, and she shook her head. They were both staring at her. She fumbled for her ball of yarn, picked it up, and looked at both of their faces. Concern. No judgment, consternation, or censure.

“I, uh…” If it were just Aelgifu, this would be easier. In a cynical way of thinking, Ayla owed her an understanding. But she’d never had friends this close and this constant, not since things started getting weird in high school. “I see things,” she said, softly, trying to keep her voice calm but talking faster than she’d intended. “Visions, I suppose.” She didn’t look at them, focusing at a spot on the wall somewhere between them. If she didn’t see the doubt on their faces (or the disgust) she could get through this. Maybe.

“At first, it was deaths. I saw a girl falling to her death…” Abby. Not a good friend, but someone she could talk to. And then their hands had brushed, and she had seen, not the falling, but Abby’s body as it hit the rocks, the bloody smear and splatter. “…it’s not the sort of thing you can tell someone, you know. But then it happened.” She slid her hands inside her wrist warmers, rubbing the bony knobs of her wrists. “She died. Pretty much like I had seen it. And then again. A guy I was dating. I tried to warn him.” She frowned. “After that, people sort of stopped talking to me.”

She pulled her hands out and wiped them slowly on the skirt of her dress, trying to get rid of the memory of a feeling, Steve’s clammy hand in hers at the funeral. “It’s gotten worse. Or maybe better. Since I came here… I see other things.” A smile crept unbidden to her lips. “Emrys.” The smile faded a little bit, and she finally braved a look at her friends.

Yngvi’s face was the most understanding, sympathetic, I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about-but-I’ll-try-to-understand she’d ever seen. Ayla… she nearly hugged her. She believed her. There was no doubt at all in her face, just sympathy. It was a more open expression than she'd ever gotten from anyone, even-

Emrys. “Emrys!” She stood, frowning at the ball of yarn in her hands before setting it down carefully on the table. Somehow, she’d managed not to drop a single stitch. “He…” Chains. Cold steel wrapped around his body, the roughly-worked edges tearing into his skin, compressing his ribcage, pulling him in all directions at once. There was no relief from their pulling, and to go limp in their rough embrace only meant that the chains around his neck pulled at his windpipe. .. “What the hell?” She shook her head, and headed for the door. “Something… something is wrong.” And the feel of the chains tearing into her throat only got more intense the closer she got to the door.

Tearing into his throat. Or were they one and the same? The doorknob was on fire, but she opened it anyway.


Chapter 19.5: Shahin
My hands are stained with love, wish I could take it away

Don’t turn around. A cold breeze slid down the hall, here, where there was no weather but climate control; it brushed across Emrys’ neck where he could still feel the crushing pressure of Ambrus’ dirty tricks. It teased him, seemed to beckon him, but did nothing to soothe the anger boiling inside of him.

Don’t. Turn. Around. If he turned around, he was going to do something stupid. Something phenomenally stupid. But it was her. He knew it was her. And something about her attracted him, some stupid twist of this place's curse, probably.

"Emrys?" That was her voice, all right, sounding soft and vulnerable and broken, just like he wanted to see her.

The door swung inwards; Shahin stepped out into the hallway, her hand still on the doorjamb. There was only one person in the hallway, his back to her, stiff and unmoving. That long hair, that black leather jacket, it had to be Emrys. The drama of the scene wouldn't allow for it to be anyone else.

Real life doesn't work that way. But she was no longer sure that this was real life. Certainly it had little to do with the life she'd come from.

He still wasn't moving, except for a soft tremor that could have been her imagination. Her visions... they'd never been wrong before she'd come here. Not that she'd known of, at least, although she'd stopped trying to find out after Steve. But there had been something strange about that vision, fuzziness around the edges that she was unused to. It made her uncertain, not just of the vision, but of herself. And he hadn’t moved yet, except that twitch in his shoulders.

“Emrys?” she asked, hating the way her voice came out, uncertain. Shake-able, vulnerable. As if she needed him, as if she’d been waiting for him to come by.

He turned, slowly, to face her, his shoulders rising and falling in a huge sigh while he turned; by the time he was facing her, he wore a smirk on his lips, and her expression, too, was schooled, casual.

“Hey,” he said, casual as if they were passing friends and not… well, whatever they were. Hardly friends, barely lovers, not yet quite enemies…

“Hello,” she said, coolly and precisely, as if she could not still feel the chains wrapped around him in her vision. And then… what?

“You heard me passing?” he asked his lips curling, acknowledging that there had been nothing to hear with her door closed tight.

“I knew you were here,” she allowed. Acknowledging, although she couldn’t tell why, that she’d come out looking for him. Round one to him.

“How’ve-” His voice didn’t quite break, but it went a little hoarse on the upturn. He cleared his throat; she ignored it. “How’s it going?”

Round two to her. Whatever insane pressure had been pushing at her when she opened the door, whatever had flung them together at the dance, had abandoned them, and they were just a boy and a girl standing in a well-appointed basement, strangers for all intents and purposes.

“Not bad,” she said, all casual small talk, gesturing with one hand in lieu of a shrug, watching him follow the movement of her wrist with a strange intensity. His eyes were flinty brown today, cold, somehow less human than when they were flickering with hidden fire. She resisted the urge to shiver, and failed to resist the urge to slide her hands back under her wrist warmers. And this time, it was her voice that broke as she asked him, “You?” Round three to him, and somehow it seemed as if the game was wandering off the board.

He reached out towards her; she tensed, remembering him tugging at her collar, pulling her in for that first, fierce, burning kiss, but his hand drifted down to her crossed wrists, not to her bare neck, and plucked at the fabric, stretched by her hands tucked awkwardly in them.

She shied away, and he frowned angrily. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said indignantly, so angry at the idea that she nearly took a step backwards. Instead, she extracted one hand from under his, and rested it lightly on top of his hand. Today, it was nothing but a hand, warm, but not on fire.

“You’re not,” she agreed, finding the protection of cool arrogance again and letting it wrap around her words. Before he could bristle at the unspoken suggestion that he couldn’t possibly hurt her, she gentled her voice and explained; “I don’t let anyone see my wrists. Or touch them.”

Now, he bristled. “I’m not just anyone.” With a bit of bluster that made her sad to see, he added, “I’ve seen the rest of you. Touched the rest of you.” He set his other hand, deliberately, on top of hers.

“Others have managed that much.” Not as well. Not as memorably. But she didn’t want to give him that, right now. She met his eyes again, making sure he saw, and heard, the challenge she was presenting him. “Nobody has seen my wrists since I was twelve. “ Oh, by all that was dark and holy, let him understand.

His eyes flickered with something hungry, and his hand on her tightened just a little, but his smirk was as lazy and casual as one of her better efforts, revealing nothing. “I will,” he smirked, “someday soon. And it will be your idea.”

..His hands were bound behind his neck, his back bent, his head bowed. He knelt, every inch of his body screaming submission…

She blinked rapidly, stumbling forward, and he caught her, shifting one hand from their clasped hands to her hip, pulling her close to him. The strength in his arms was surprising, and pleasant, even as she was remembering how those muscles had looked, tight with tension, bound. And why was her mind running porn tracks now? She fought, and won, against the urge to lick her lips. Not this close to his lips.

“Are you…”

“Yeah.” It was nice to simply be held by him, without the interruption of visions or the force of heat and need pressing down on her. It made her think, for one dangerous moment, that it might be nice to not be fighting him. Then he grinned at her, and she realized he would be unbearable if she allowed him to win. “I’m all right, thank you,” she said, resting her hands on his forearms, on the stiff leather of the biker jacket. Every bit as much an affectation as her sable, and that amused her, even as it made her wonder what his armor was hiding.

“You need to stop falling into my arms,” he teased her.

“You need to stop making me swoon,” she countered, enjoying the banter enough that she didn’t care, for the moment, that she was inflating his obviously-already-huge ego.

“Only if you stop being so tempting,” he murmured softly. She smiled up at him, letting her tongue dart out over her lips, wondering if he realized what he’d just said.

A soft bit of color rising in his cheeks suggested that, yes, he did. She wondered if she should let him off the hook – it had been a nice compliment, after all, and perhaps if she didn’t use it to win this round, he’d do it again later – but he was recovering quickly, turning the blush into a leer, looking down at her velvet-sheathed cleavage.

“But I like courting danger,” she said lightly, and was rewarded by a spark of fire back in his eyes.

“Who’s courting who, here?” he asked, a little rumble of defensiveness in his voice.

“No-one, yet,” she responded archly. She could go on like this all night!

“I guess I’ll have to do something about that.” He slid his hand down her arm, one finger tracing patterns in the soft fabric. She didn’t shiver. She didn’t tremble. Instead, she turned her hand, still holding his, palm-up, and slid it inside the cuff of his coat, caressing his bare wrist.

“If you must,” she replied languidly. And succeeded in getting the last word in by sheer fate – her door opened, and, like an avenging angel or a protective older brother (neither of which she’d ever had, though both sounded like nice ideas), Yngvi stepped out, projecting disapproval.

“Sheen? Is everything all right?”

Scowling, Emrys stepped back, releasing her. She straightened her sleeves, and removed a fleck of dust from her bodice, giving herself a moment to catch her breath. “Mmm?” She smiled disingenuously at Yngvi. “Oh, yeah. Everything’s fine. I’m sorry I ran out like that….” She made a dismissive gesture, hoping he wouldn’t push it. Wondering when he’d gotten protective, and why.

“It’s no problem,” he said, still looking at Emrys. “Ayla and I were just getting worried about you.”

He was going to stand there until she came back in, she realized. When had she acquired chaperones? “Do you want to come in?” she asked Emrys, in sheer defiance to Yngvi’s disapproving glare.

“That’s all right.” He seemed impervious the censure, but she could see a little tension coming back in his shoulders and back. “I was on my way to the gym.” He hesitated, and looked back at her, something flickering in his expression. “Listen…” she’d never heard his voice more uncertain. It made her listen all the more intently. “I’d stay in, tomorrow. Just hang out. There’s nothing to do around here anyway.”

Yngvi frowned more deeply. “That’s cryptic and creepy.”

“Yeah, well,” he frowned defensively, and turned his attention to Shahin, pointedly ignoring Yngvi. “they call it Hell Night. The lights all go out, and the upperclassmen are all over the place in the dark, trying to creep out the newbies.”

“Hell Night?” She looked up at him, wondering where the joke was. “You’re serious? They just stalk around looking creepy and trying to scare the new fish?”

That only made him look more uncomfortable. “Well… yeah. The point is to scare the new students into hiding behind another older student, asking for their protection from the big bad demons.”

Something about the way he said it caught her attention, an echoing intonation of ritual in “asking for protection.” She looked up at him, wanting confirmation but not sure what the question was, and he, catching the question in her eyes, nodded. Yes. But damnit, yes, what? That, she had a feeling, would have to wait.

“So… they wander around, trying to scare the younger students by being big and creepy and scary?” She laughed, a thrill of challenge and anticipation running through her. “Oh, Emrys, that’s great!” Another chuckle escaped her lips, and he smiled back at her, clearly puzzled. “Look at me,” she said joyously. “‘Girls, watch out for the weirdos? ‘We are the weirdos, mister,’” she quoted. “Oh, I’m going to have fun with this!”

His puzzled smile was replaced with a slightly superior one that she was used to seeing. “This, I have to see,” he declared. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow morning,” she agreed. She’d be sure he’d get an eyeful.

She still wanted to beat him... now, more than ever, with him looking down at her with that insufferable smirk, with the tantalizing image of him bent and bowed still warning with the other visions in her mind. But she wanted to know him, as well. Wanted him to know her. All of her.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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