Anatoliy sat in his room for what seemed like an eternity after returning Kailani to her crew. At first, he just sat on his bed, head in his hands, and thought. Finally he stood, moving about the room. He did some busywork for Solomon; tidied his desk; made his bed. He eyed the vacuum he’d borrowed from Facilities, considering his most detested chore. Abruptly he realized that he was stalling, putting off the inevitable. He knew what he had to do. The longer he put it off, the harder it would be. Wasn’t that what had gotten him here in the first place? He squared his jaw, set his shoulders, and opened the door.
Agatha was there, of course, sitting on the couch, straight-backed and proper as always. Her soft white hair fell just to her shoulders, pale as the driven snow, as it had been since that first week. A cute little sundress sheathed her petite body, heedless of the small, slender curves, the delicate skin he’d always wanted to touch, to taste. Her eyes shone clear and bright, hinting at the crafty intellect that lurked behind those windows, that he had trusted so long to guide him. Those eyes shifted, noting his attention, and a tiny smile quirked up her lip.
“So how was she?”
“Aggie,” he began tiredly.
“I know, I know, you don’t want to kiss and tell, but this is me. We have no secrets from each other, do we?” Her smile broadened as she raised a hand to her chin in contemplation. “Did she play along? Was she good to you, or did she just lie there?”
“Aggie!” he said sharply, shoring up his resolve. “I’m not going to discuss her like that.”
“Why not? She’s a Fifth, just a toy for us, right?”
“No, that’s not right! She’s a woman, and she has a name. Kailani. What we did to Kailani was wrong, Agatha.”
Anatoliy hadn’t realized the depth of his vehemence until he caught himself using her full name, and he questioned himself yet again, but having come this far he plunged on.
“You’ve changed, Aggie. Do you remember our first year together? When I was only six foot three, and everything was new and scary? We swore we’d be there for each other, to keep the darkness at bay. You’d help me understand it, and I’d help you fight it off. And when Meshach owned Delaney and Ardell, and Oralee owned Ib, we were left alone, and it was alright. We took care of each other, and left everyone else alone.”
He paused for a moment, noting the faintly puzzled expression on Agatha’s face, and continued.
“And the next year everybody got into it. Dysmas showed up, and he went around with us, but he was dating Delaney, and that was okay. Then she owned him, and that was still okay; she wouldn’t treat him the way Meshach had treated her, right? He never talked about it, though, except to say everything was fine. Ib owned Callista, and Ardell owned Xaviera, and I’m sure they passed down what they’d received in turn. Then Rozen owned Mea, and Allyse owned Aviv, and everyone started grabbing the Third Cohort as fast as they could. But we were safe, you and I, because we had each other. And we left everyone else alone.”
He breathed deeply, collecting his thoughts.
“I think it all changed when Delaney had Dysmas’s baby. You started talking about how we needed to work on that ourselves, if we planned to graduate. And when Megan owned Taro, and Shadrach owned Eris, you and Dysmas started talking more quietly, eyeing the Fourth Cohort like they were prizes to be won. Yeah, Emrys was cool and we took him under our wing, but you and Dysmas started looking differently at the others. I remember when the two of you walked up to Rowan and Ofir, when they were gazing around in wonder just like we’d been two years before. And on Hell Night, when you and I had run around in good fun the previous year, the two of you Owned them. It was okay, for awhile, and they were nice enough. But as the year went on they didn’t look happy when you weren’t around. They didn’t look happy when you were around, when your backs were turned. And I saw the wounds. Not just from Dysmas’s teeth, but other things. On both of them. But you’d always known best, and I kept my mouth shut.”
Another deep breath.
“I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer, Aggie. You’re not the sweet girl I had such a crush on when we got off that plane. You didn’t look at the Fifths as people for even a moment; that very first day you were looking for one to cull from the herd. You treat Bowen like a puppy. Emrys’s girlfriend is really nice, and you practically spit on her. This place has changed you. What happened to the innocent little girl I met on that plane, Aggie?”
For a moment she just stared at him, for once seemingly at a loss for words. Had he gone too far? He didn’t mean to hurt her. Then she started laughing.
“Oh, Tolly, Tolly, dear. Come here.” She patted the cushion beside her, and he approached, taking the offered seat as she continued.
“It’s you who’s changed. I’m looking out for us, like I always have. Like you said you would, too. I’ve been fending for myself, trying to get out of this place. Yes, I’ve picked weak boys, those who couldn’t defend themselves, and for good reason. You know I was never interested in them as lovers, don’t you?”
She smiled up at him then, with just the faintest hint of promise, and his heart skipped a beat despite himself.
“Imagine if I’d let a big, strong man get that close to me; strong of mind and will, not just of body. Someone like you, only a stranger, not someone I trust. You didn’t need Kailani’s promise, if you wanted her badly enough; you could’ve held her down with one hand. You wouldn’t want something like that to happen to me, would you?”
When she put it that way, he started to feel bad about talking to her the way he had. Of course he’d never let her come to harm. That was beside the point, though.
“Aggie, listen. I didn’t mean to say you weren’t trying to help. We’ve always had each other’s best interests at heart, right? I appreciate what you were trying to do for me. I don’t want that kind of help, though. You shouldn’t have bullied Kailani like that. We shouldn’t have...”
“I shouldn’t have?” she laughed. ”That’s a lovely high horse you’ve got, but I’m not the one who was in the bedroom with her, Tolly. You raped that girl, not me. We do what we have to to survive in this place. You’re no different from me.”
“You’re wrong,” he said, rising quickly from the couch to turn on her, strange feelings churning within him. “I am different, and I’ll prove it.”
He opened the door, and found himself suddenly face to face with Emrys and Shahin. “So what happened after we left?” Emrys asked.
Agatha answered from the couch.
“We brought the girl here, and with any luck Tolly fulfilled one of his graduation requirements. Now he’s just a bit broken up about it, the poor thing.”
Poor thing... he wasn’t the poor thing here. Anatoliy stepped forward, all but forcing the couple out of his way, and heard the door close behind him. He was surprised to see that, rather than having entered the room, they remained on his side of it.
“Tolly,” Emrys said. ”You want to talk about it, man?”
“There’s not a lot to talk about. We brought Kailani back here, and... it’s like Agatha said.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s like Agatha said.”
“Oh...” Shahin sounded startled, but she patted his hand sympathetically, and he took comfort in the warm, human touch.
“I’m going back over there. I have to make things right with Kailani. If I can. If she’ll let me. I at least have to make the effort.”
Emrys nodded in understanding. “We’ll walk with you.”
Tolly caught a brief look of exasperation on Shahin’s face, but she nodded her agreement. “Yes. We will.”
“You don’t have to, if you’re busy...”
“We’ll be there for you,” Emrys said. “It’s what real friends do.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
| Home | About | Table of Contents | Contact|