Chapter 88: Shahin
Friends will be friends
When you’re in need of love they give you care and attention
Friends will be friends
When you’re through with life and all hope is lost

Saturday morning came slowly for Shahin, wrapped in the warmth that was Emrys, safe in his arms, dreaming of a place by a river where everything was safe. Slowly, she slipped out of the dream, and back to a reality that was sharp, painful, and uncomfortable.

She didn’t open her eyes at first. She thought the world might be better if she never had to open her eyes again. But thought pricked at her from the sides of the pain, and she remembered what else had been in her dream. Not just them, their broken little family.

“Our friends,” she whispered. Damnit, even if that included that horrid bitch Agatha.

“Mmm?” He stirred against her, and it felt like a thousand tiny papercuts wherever his flesh touched hers.

She stifled a whimper with effort. A pill would stop the pain. A pill would make everything better… “No,” she said, softly but firmly. If she could survive a monster, she could be stronger than a damn pill.

“No what? Are you awake, Sheen? You’re okay. We’re home. Talk to me.”

His voice was too loud, this early, too much to deal with. “Shut…” she caught herself, and swallowed. She’d lost too much edge; she would have to work to get it back. “Shh, please, Emrys. I know we’re home. I just,” she caught her breath, and swallowed the rest of the sentence. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” he whispered, the loudness of it reverberating in her ears. “How’re you doing?”

“Alive,” she answered dryly. “Not certain yet that that’s the preferred state. Yourself?” Find some footing. Bring things back to where she understood them. Shut down this soul-nakedness before it became a habit.

“I’ll be okay if you will.”

I’ll be okay as long as you’re here with me. She opened her eyes, slowly, to look at him. “I’ll recover. I don’t think I’ll ever look at an aspirin again in quite the same light.” Or a naked man. Especially this naked man. Or a knife. She shuddered, remembering the way he’d looked, limp and bleeding, dying.

Now, he was none of those things. He was whole, and holding her close in his arms. It was comforting, albeit in a sandpapery way. “We’ll get through this, Sheen.”

We. It would be a lot more comforting if it didn’t feel so one-sided. “We should let our friends know that we’re okay.” She sighed. “That we’re back, at least.”

“I guess we should, yeah. Where do you want to go first?”

She considered the clock. “Your crew first.”

“Fair enough.” He gently disengaged from her, fingertips lightly brushing over her like burning needles, and rose to dress.

Dressing itself was a problem. She stood naked in front of her closet for several minutes, knowing all of her favorite clothes would chafe and stab at her, that the corsets would be unbearable, the lace intolerable.

She coughed out a little sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “I… I have nothing to wear,” she choked, amused at the irony and yet wanting to scream with frustration. Wasn’t even her image her own to control anymore?

She sighed softly, and went through her closet again. That skirt was soft enough, especially with her favorite tights. Ballet flats. “Give me your T-shirt. Please.” Nothing she owned wouldn’t feel like misery. And if Aggie made fun of her – well, she’d deal with that then.

He handed her a t-shirt, smiling. “Y’know, that could be cute on you.”

“‘Cute’ is not normally a look I go for.” She slipped the shirt on. “I was thinking more of ‘bearable.’ Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Are we ready, then?”

She pulled out her softest mitts and slipped them on. “Now we are.” She braced her shoulders and took his hand before they left her room. He walked with her, hand in hand, to Agatha’s suite.

She didn’t really want to do this. But they were his friends, poisonous and creepy or no, and they had a right to know. She rapped on the door, trying not to cringe at the bone-on-bone feeling.

Bowen answered the door, wearing his typical hangdog expression, but he smiled just a little at seeing them. “Hi guys.”

“Hi,” Shahin smiled, making her expression as gentle as she could make it. Poor thing. “We’re just stopping in to visit for a moment.”

“Hey, that’s great.” He stepped aside to make room as Tolly lumbered up to the door. “There you are! Come on in!”

Shahin couldn’t hide the wince this time; Tolly was loud normally. Today, he was unbearable. Still, she stepped over the threshold, far enough in to let Emrys enter as well.

Tolly scooped them both up in a great big bear hug. She didn’t scream, even though it felt as if her whole body was being crushed in a vice. He wouldn’t understand. “Tolly,” she squeaked painfully, wondering when a squeak had been added to her repertoire.

He set them down gingerly. “Oh, sorry,” he roared at close range, eliciting another wince. “Guess you’re still fragile, huh?”

“I… yes. You heard what happened?” She whispered, hoping that would encourage him to whisper as well.

“Not entirely,” he replied in a duller roar.

She winced. She neither wanted to interrogate him nor explain. “Monster,” she tried to explain, very quietly. “Ki- Kidnapped us.” It sounded somehow insufficient, but she didn’t think she could bear giving him the details.

“Man.” He shook his head. “Well, you know, if there’s anything you need, we’re here.”

“Thank you, Tolly.” She glanced at Emrys, to reassure herself that he was still there, to see if he wanted to say anything.

“Yeah, thanks,” Emrys said. Dysmas and even Agatha had stepped up behind Anatoliy in the meantime, and they nodded their agreement.

She looked them over, too raw still to hide all her surprise. Well, they were Emrys’ crew, after all. “Thank you,” she repeated, this time to all three of them. “I can’t – well, won’t – speak for Emrys in this, but I think all I need is time.” And a padded white room.

“You’ll be fine,” Dysmas agreed, with an almost knowing tone.

Dysmas was owned by Delaney his first year here, Emrys had said. Maybe he really did know. She turned back to Emrys. “Next stop, then?”

“I guess so, yeah. Thanks, guys.”

“Do you want to stay here for a while? It’s not like anyone’s waiting for me, exactly…”

“We were just going to watch a movie,” Dysmas offered. ”Stick around?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice,” Emrys said, glancing to Shahin.

She nodded, relieved to have something he wanted that she could give him. ” “Sounds lovely.”

Dysmas put the movie in as they settled down in the living room – she saw him put away something bloody and violent, and pull out a comedy instead – and, for a little while, if she ignored the harsh jangling of her nerves, life was almost normal.

Everyone was being nice; even Agatha seemed to be making an effort. Although things seemed a little strained still between Aggie and Tolly, the tiny woman’s newfound politeness was a relief to Shahin’s raw senses. Maybe the girl had a shred of humanity in her, after all.

Emrys, for the most part, acted like it was just an ordinary day for him. As much as she was trying to do the same, she wondered how he could just sit there like everything was okay. But now was not the time to ask. Now was the time for stupid movies and friends acting like friends. Even if one of them was a vampire.

She was almost reluctant to leave when the movie was over, but… “We should go find Ayla and Vi.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Emrys nodded. “We’ll see you later, right guys?”

“Of course,” Dysmas agreed. “We’re glad you’re back.”

“Me, too,” Shahin said with feeling. She’d never thought she’d be glad to be back in this madhouse, but it was nice to be around friends. To hold Emrys’ hand like there was nothing wrong.

It wasn’t a long walk, and she didn’t have much to say they hadn’t already said, but she spent it trying to figure out how to ask him to knock this time.

He needed no help with that it seemed though, and when they reached Ayla’s door, he rapped lightly upon it.

“Thanks,” she murmured.

Ayla opened the door before he answered. She looked first annoyed, and then, very quickly, startled, happy, worried, and annoyed again. “Sheen!”

It wasn’t as bad as Anatoliy. No normal-sized human could be as loud as Tolly. She managed not to flinch back too much - but Ayla was more observant than the giant, perhaps because they were almost at eye level with each other. ”Shahin? What’s wrong?”

Oh, gods. She gulped and looked at Emrys silently for help.

“She’s still a little shaken up,” he said. “If you could make an effort to be quiet? And not touch her too much?”

Ayla glared at him. “Shaken up?” Her voice was, Shahin noticed, a lot quieter. ”What did you do to her? Come in, come in,” she added.

I do? Well fuck you too.” Emrys spun on his heel.


Chapter 88b: Shahin
I know in all we've said
I finally know how it began
It's nothing that I can even explain

“…Well fuck you too.” Emrys spun on his heel

Shahin was glad she had hold of his hand; it was probably all that kept him from taking off. “Ayla,” she pled softly. Why was she being so unreasonable? Emrys’ crew had understood. She held tightly to Emrys’ hand and hoped he didn’t drag her down the hall.

“Well, what do you expect me to believe when you vanish for days and no-one knows where you are, and you’ve been doing this stupid collar ownership game?”

Emrys stopped, at least, though he turned a baleful glare on Ayla as they talked.

Shahin sighed, and took advantage of the invitation to step into Ayla’s room. “Emrys, please?” she asked softly.

Emrys stepped in with her, but his frayed temper was clearly on edge. “Game? You want to see a game? Tell Shahin you belong to her, if you dare.”

“What is with you?” Ayla snapped. “You steal my friend away for weeks at a time, and now you’re mad at me about it?”

“With me? Do you have any idea where we were the past few days?” His voice was becoming painfully loud in Shahin’s ears as he stepped forward, jabbing a finger at Ayla. “Do you care, you little bitch? You’d rather blame me than find out what happened to us or be glad we’re back. Aggie treated us better than you.”

Her eardrums were going to snap if this got any louder, and, while she had to admit that Emrys had a very good point, Ayla was her best friend.

“Emrys,” she began, but Ayla plowed over her.

“I do care where you’ve been! You two vanished without a word and the teachers didn’t even seem to notice, and no-one would tell me anything…” Shahin wondered if Ayla even knew she was crying.

“Guys…” She forced her voice louder. “Ayla. Emrys. Please.”

Ayla turned her rage on her, which was almost a relief. She knew she wouldn’t set her on fire. “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you at least leave a note or something? I was worried sick. Vi’s so angry…”

“They really didn’t tell you?” That, more than anything, made her angry. What good was the administration? She used the anger to get her through the next sentence. “We were kidnapped and tortured and, and… and they couldn’t even bother to tell our friends what was going on?”

“Kidnapped and… oh, god. Oh, god, Shahin.” She reached for Shahin’s shoulders, and stopped herself halfway. “Oh, god.” Her face twisted from horror to mortified embarrassment. “Emrys, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he sighed, making a visible effort to keep his cool.

“No, I know better. You rescued Vi.” She shook her head. “Kidnapped? Sit down, why aren’t you still in the Doctor’s office, are you guys okay?” The words were tumbling out of her.

“I… we’ll be okay,” Shahin answered quietly, although her headache was growing. “It’s just going to be rough for a few weeks.”

“A very rough couple weeks,” Emrys echoed. “Caitrin released us, though.”

“Oh…” She shook her head. “No-one told us anything. They really don’t like telling us anything at all, do they?”

“It’s beginning to seem that way,” Shahin frowned. She glanced at Emrys, though: “Tolly knew?”

“Yeah... yeah, he did. Probably from Luke, I’d guess.”

“That makes sense. I just wish someone had told my friends.”

“Jamian and Kailani were around earlier, talking about something similar. About how no-one tells anyone anything around here,” Ayla offered. “They said the collars thing wasn’t a game. I guess I should have listened.”

“They were?” Emrys looked troubled. “What’re they up to?”

Ayla hesitated. “I’m not sure I should tell you.” She held up a hand apologetically. “I’m not trying to be a pain, it’s just that it was sort of a Fifth-Cohort thing.”

“Fifth Cohorts keeping secrets from the rest of us?” Emrys laughed. “I’m not sure if we should be offended or proud of you.”

“Turnabout and all that,” Shahin said softly. “I’ll have to find them to talk later. I wonder how she’s doing.” Not just her – that mess had ended up involving a lot of people. “I wonder how Taro is doing. Or Joff’s hair.”

“I’m sure they’re fine. It’s only a little fire.”

“A little…” Ayla looked between the two of them. “What happened?

Shahin took a breath. “Agatha got upset at Kailani for ‘messing with her Kept,’ so we went over there to talk to her – well, her crew did, and, as I was there, so did I. And she goaded Taro into attacking, but dodged better than I do, apparently. The next moments are a bit blurry…”

“There was a fight, and Kailani and her crew lost,” Emrys supplied. Shahin couldn’t help but smile a little bit.

“He’s skipping the part where he lit Taro on fire. We got sent to the infirmary, scolded, used as food for the succu..” she trailed off softly.

“Shh,” Emrys said quietly, stepping up close beside her again. “It’s okay.”

She let him hold her, relaxing into the comfort. “The thing that kidnapped us,” she said, very softly, because Ayla deserved to know, “was like the succubi here, only a lot more so. It wanted strong emotions. And I – I don’t do strong emotion.” She leaned on Emrys a little more for support. She wondered how much Ayla knew; from the blank expression, not much.

“The succubi here – Ivette, Joff, Jamian – can somehow eat emotion. They drain a little energy. But what happened to Vi and a lot of other people in the halls, that was someone draining a lot of energy. And the pain pills they give to help you with the Change… the part where you get more inhuman… I guess they make it tastier?” There was so much she just hadn’t been paying attention to!

“Better in some way,” Emrys confirmed. “Dysmas notices it too, to a lesser extent. It’s generally considered a harmless side effect, as long as you’re careful.”

“Careful.” Ayla blinked, and Shahin could see the dawning horror on her face, but it was quickly sidetracked by another realization. “The pain pills… for the ‘Change…’ Sheen?”

… freaks, barely human – some of them clearly less than human… It had been just a dream, she’d hoped, but the expression on Ayla’s face made her less certain. She pulled her gloves off slowly, showing Ayla the lines of cold blue runes circling her wrists.

“Oh… that’s not bad,” Ayla said softly. “Did it hurt?”

Like doom. Like her bones cracking. But so much less than just moving now, so much less than watching the monster hurt Emrys. “A little. I was asleep for most of it.”

“But we got the pills from Caitrin for her, to keep it under control,” Emrys noted.

The pills. She really, really wanted a pill. She was shuddering before she realized she was, twitching softly. “Oh, god,” she muttered. She couldn’t break down here, in front of Ayla.

“Sheen?” Ayla was next to her before she could say anything, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. “Shahin, it’s okay, I’m here. We’re here,” she amended.

She flinched, expecting it to hurt, but instead was bathed in cool peace and calm and blessed silence. Then Ayla pulled back, and the static and pins-and-needles came back.

“Oh,” she said softly. “Yeah. I know you’ll be here. You’re a good friend, Ay.” She squeezed Emrys’ hand. “I’ll be fine, with you guys here to help me.”

“We won’t leave you,” he said, squeezing back.

She smiled mischievously at him. “I suppose, if it took being kidnapped and tortured to get a ‘we’ including you and Ayla together, it was worth it.”

“Well, she could’ve made that easier,” he grinned.

“You weren’t exactly being warm and fuzzy yourself,” Ayla retorted. “Except when you were on fire, I mean.”

“Hey, if you want to come see me be warm...”

“You’re not my type, thanks.” But they were smiling. Shahin found that she could relax a little bit. If she could get along with his friends, if he could get along with hers, maybe they’d be able to get through all right.

“So what’s our next stop, Sheen?”

They did have to leave eventually, didn’t they? “We should stop by Mabina-and-Cassidy’s suite and talk to them,” she admitted. “Since we were right outside their door when…”

“Yeah, we really should,” he agreed. “Okay, then. Oh, speaking of which, I kind of cashed in Taro’s chit.”

“Cashed in…” For a moment, she thought he was making up a creative euphemism for whoops, while you were unconscious, I killed him, but he didn’t really look smug or abashed enough for that. “Oh, his theoretical debt to us for getting char-broiled? When did you find time for that?”

“When we were fighting that monster. Fat lot of good it did, but we tried.”

She hugged him fiercely, ignoring the pain it caused, and murmured “thank you” into his hair.

“You’re welcome,” he whispered back.


Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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