Chapter 91: Shahin
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep 'em in your pocket
Save them for a time when you're really gonna need them

She let Emrys knock on the door to Mabina-and-Cassidy’s suite, glad she’d grabbed his left hand, because she couldn’t quite let herself let go. She stared at the swirling insistence of their tattoos, linked and blending at their fingertips, wondering what it meant. Wondering if she was losing even that part of herself to him. Wondering if that would be a bad thing.

She hoped he couldn’t tell how frightened she was, how much the thought of his touch anywhere but on her hand was making her freeze. She didn’t want him to know how much she was dreading the moment they’d be alone together, in her room or his, how uncertain she was that she’d be able to hold it together when they were naked.

She clutched his hand a little tighter, and tried to find some peace within her. Just one pill, maybe even a half a pill, would give her back the calm. She almost asked for one, but the door swung open before she could voice the traitorous thought.

“Oh, and you’re back.” Cassidy sounded a thousand times more charitable than he had the last time they stood at his door. “Come in, come in. Are you all right?”

Shahin had found her social face again, but she hoped Emrys would field that one. He was, she had to admit, better at lying with the truth than she was.

“We’ll live,” he answered glibly, living up to her expectations as he stepped over the threshold. “We were actually hoping to talk to Kailani, is she around?”

“She and Conrad just returned. Hold here and I’ll go get her.” He darted off to do that. Shahin took the opportunity to kiss Emrys’ cheek affectionately, surprising herself with the gesture.

He smiled warmly at her, and murmured, “At least they’re going out. It’s a good sign.”

She hid her surprise and chagrin mostly as an exercise, to see if she still could. Lost in her own fear and misery, she’d momentarily forgotten Kai and Conrad’s woes. If they were still going out, yes, that probably was a good sign. Then again, here they were, her and Emrys, making the rounds as if nothing was wrong.

She returned his smile, rather than saying any of that, surprised how nice it felt, beaming at him like some lovestruck fool.

When Conrad’s voice interrupted her reverie, she was properly mortified. They were out in public, and here she was making puppy eyes. She didn’t even catch his words until he spoke again; she’d gotten better at not flinching from the harsh loudness of voices, but her technique made them easier to dismiss as white noise. “Shahin?”

She blinked at him, hoping she didn’t look as stupid as she felt. He wasn’t wearing his collar. That couldn’t be good. Of course, Emrys wasn’t wearing a collar, either… She swallowed bile, and smiled, far more certainly than she felt. “Conrad, hi. We…” thought we ought to tell your crew we were alive. We wondered how you were doing, after Emrys’ crew raped your girlfriend “…thought we’d stop by and say hello, now that we’re up and about again.”

“Well, hello, then.” His tone was colder, more distant than Cassidy’s, and it was almost a relief that someone wasn’t entirely pretending that nothing had happened. “I see you’ve released him?” he asked, jerking his head slightly in Emrys’s direction.

She couldn’t entirely stop the clench of her hand, but she didn’t let the twitch get as far as her face. “The week was up,” she answered blandly. “I see you’re collarless as well?”

“Unshackled, but not unbound,” he smiled. Kailani stepped up next to him, draping her arm around his waist far more casually and comfortably than Shahin had ever seen her be.

“We’re still together,” the redhead confirmed. It sounded like a triumph, something Shahin could empathize with. For the second time in minutes, she found herself smiling like an idiot.

“We are, too.”

Emrys cleared his throat. “Good. And how’s Taro?”

“Oh!” Kai beamed at him. “Mea saved his life, he’s fine. And he took her out on a date the other day.” She looked immensely pleased with herself and, remembering the lush girl, Shahin could understand why. Still…

“Saved his life?”

Emrys looked a bit fidgety at that one, but he let Kai answer it.

“Oh!” she said again. “When he and Emrys went to rescue you from the monster, I guess he got frozen in a block of ice. He’s pretty grumpy about it. But Mea came along and thawed him out.”

“Aah.” That would explain the squaring things away Emrys had mentioned.

“Well, I’m glad to hear he’s doing all right,” Emrys put in, so smoothly that it made Shahin wonder what more there was to the story. She could ask him later, she decided.

“We went to see Ayla, my friend Aelgifu,” she said, mostly to change the subject. “They hadn’t even told her we’d been taken, nor that we were back.” She’d meant it as a cue to commiseration – she’d never met a student who didn’t agree that the administration was the enemy – and was surprised to see the fire light up in the other girl’s eyes.

“Yes!” she said, shouted, really, loudly enough that Shahin had to flinch. “Sorry.” She dropped her voice to a more normal, if embarrassed, tone, “they don’t want to tell us anything!

“Do you blame them, considering what they’d be telling?” Emrys murmured.

The girl glared fiercely at him. “Yes! Ignorance is never better than knowledge! And the things they’re doing, even this invasive, archaic breeding project, would be better done with informed consent than with trickery and, and,” she stuttered hard and her voice dropped to a whisper, “rape.”

“Breeding project,” Shahin murmured. “That would explain the graduation requirements.” She curled her free hand protectively over her flat stomach. “I can’t say I would have agreed to this, if I’d known what was happening,” she continued slowly. It was hard to think of not having their son there, now that she’d dreamed of him.

“Most people wouldn’t,” Emrys agreed. “There’s a reason they don’t tell us.”

“You did,” she pointed out, cutting off Kailani.

“To an extent,” he admitted, taking a slow breath. “There’s a certain... inevitability, to this place, the way it works. You’ll see things differently when it’s not your first year.”

“People keep saying that,” Kailani complained, cutting off Shahin in turn. “And it makes no sense! Why spend a year being ignorant when there’s so much to learn? Just so you can get trapped into a bad Keeping like B- like Taro was last year?”

“Like who, were you going to say?”

Shahin sighed inwardly, but she had known as soon as Kai made the slip that Emrys would pounce on it.

Apparently, the girl had been growing a spine while they’d been… gone. She glared back at Emrys. “There’s no Law against speaking the truth now, is there?”

“There’s not, no, but I’d like to know who you’re thinking of.”

“Emrys…” Shahin murmured, but the girl had her dander up now and there was no stopping her; she plowed right over Shahin again.

“You know damn well who I was thinking of, and you’re blind if you don’t think he’s in a bad situation, too! Never mind the bruises for the moment, or dragging him around when he’d had all his energy drained out of him, when’s the last time he’s eaten a full meal?”

“You had been speaking of last year,” Emrys replied, uncharacteristically mildly. “There were any number of people you could have meant.” Shahin noted that, genial tone aside, he didn’t respond to Kailani’s points at all.

That seemed to take all the wind out of her sails. “You mean it’s common?” She sounded small, and horrified, a child finding out for the first time that people aren’t always nice.

“Kept being treated in ways they might not prefer?” Emrys laughed darkly. “Rather.”

Shahin, stand up and take all your clothes off for us. Here, right now. He ought to know. And the worst of it was that she knew now that had been nothing.

While she’d been musing, Kailani had been working her steam up again. Shahin wondered if she – or Conrad – ought to interfere.

“You can say ‘ways they might not prefer’ about, about… being told to do their homework,” she countered, her technique weak but her point clear. “I mean real abuse.” She glanced at Conrad, clearly having something on her mind, and settled for repeating “real abuse.”

It was Conrad’s turn to fidget nervously, but he let Emrys respond.

“What, you’re objecting to my genteel phrasing? Kept get beaten, tortured, raped, is that what you want me to say?” The heat was entering Emrys’s tone, now; would it simmer off, or boil over? Shahin squeezed his hand gently, hoping she could calm him down before things blew up again.

“Emrys,” she interrupted, although she wasn’t certain what to say next. Tortured? She was feeling a little ill.

“No.” Kai’s voice matched Shahin’s rebellious stomach. “No, that’s not what I want to hear. Why?” The lost child was back. “Why is it like that? You don’t beat your Kept! I don’t!... Why?”

“Well, not everyone is like us, are they? Hell, you and I aren’t like each other, even.”

She flopped, defeated-looking, against Conrad, tears sparkling in her eyes. “It’s just not right,” she whispered.

“Well, that’s as may be,” Emrys allowed. “But it’s what is. What are you going to do, change it?” he scoffed.

Shahin thought about the bruises on Bowen’s chest, and the defeated way he’d looked as Agatha had dragged him around. She thought about the look on Shera’s face as her spiky-haired boyfriend had laid down the law, the tired and knowing expression as Dysmas had told them it would get easier. “Maybe we ought to,” she answered softly.


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