Ayla missed seeing Shahin every day, they way they had before she’d started this mess with Emrys; she missed her friend’s quiet self-confidence, which seemed to have been battered to the breaking point by the ordeal she nor Emrys would willingly talk about.
Watching her challenge Xaviera had been nerve-wracking, watching her take hit after hit; she’d watched Emrys instead, through most of it, and been gratified to see him flinching as hard as she was at the assault. It had been worth it, the lip-biting stress, to watch Shahin, the old Sheen, cold and proud, come out on top.
When she came by Monday night to talk, sans Emrys, though, she was back to the New Shahin, uncertain and hesitant, rubbing her arms and seeming as if she couldn’t get warm. Ayla let her in, willing to pretend, if Sheen and Vi were, that things were like they had been.
They both seemed willing to, Vi even foregoing a snarky comment about Emrys, and so they spent a little while just chatting and gossiping. If the gossip was a little different than it had been before they’d come to Addergoole – who was wearing whose collar, instead of who was dating whom, whose Changes had been the weirdest, who hadn’t Changed yet (Vi and Ayla, for two), instead of who had worn what – well, they were still just being friends, hanging out, and gossiping.
Then Sheen, who had seemed to be unwinding (her new clothes, soft and flowing and far less stiff and lacy, seemed more conducive to relaxing than her old outfits, but Ayla had to wonder at the change in her image-conscious friend), lay down on her stomach on the bed and regarded her two friends.
“I don’t know how much Ioanna has told you, Ayla…”
Ayla blushed. She was still getting used to being straightforward about having a girlfriend. “About this place? She really doesn’t like to talk about it that much.”
“It’s hard for them to talk about, in general,” Shahin nodded. “The upperclassmen are under some sort of geas restricting what they can say about most of the weird stuff; I’m not quite sure why, unless the administration wants to avoid getting the underclassmen upset all at once.”
“Kailani and Jamian – Jaya? – said something about that when they were here,” Ayla agreed. “They were talking about information sharing?”
“How bad can it be, that they’re worried about us freaking out?” Yngvi wondered dryly. “The hallways are full of monsters, and that’s an open secret. We’re taking classes in magic and, all around us, our fellow students are turning into fairy-tale creatures. What else can there be?”
Oh, Vi. Ayla frowned at him; that was like saying “I think we’re safe now” in a horror movie. Shahin, she noted, was frowning, too.
“Mmm,” she said, and rested her chin on her hands in a thinking pose. “A bit more, I’m afraid. How do you guys feel about being immortal fairy godparents?”
Fairy… “Oh, Sheen,” Ayla sighed. “Didn’t you get birth control from the doctor?”
She just smirked dryly. “Turns out there’s more than one definition of ‘control.’ Turns out, more importantly, that having children is a graduation requirement of this madhouse.”
“You’re kidding.” Yngvi’s voice was flat and left no room for argument; Ayla could see the way it pushed at Shahin. Sheen’s hands snuck inside her gloves again, and she shook her head no.
She really wasn’t kidding. Ayla gulped quietly. “He got you pregnant. While he was Keeping you. For some sort of graduation requirement.” Think about that. Don’t think about raped and tortured by a monster. Don’t think about what this means for you. For Io. Think about that asshole Emrys.
But Shahin was shaking her head no. “Before that, I think. And he didn’t have all that much choice about it, either. As I understand it, they’re pretty insistent about that requirement, although they’ll allow for artificial insemination.”
Ayla gulped. Sheen was looking straight at her, and she had a determined and serious expression that could only mean she was up to something. Something involving children. No, Sheen, no, please…
“Tolly’s in a bind. He’s, well, you’ve met him, Ayla, you know. Shy. Not the sort of guy who could get a girl in this environment, if anywhere…”
“Stop it, Sheen,” Ayla begged. She glanced at Vi, but he was clearly still in denial, glowering at both of them. “I … I know what you’re asking.” She wrapped her arms over her stomach. “I’ll have to think about it, okay?”
“Okay,” Shahin said, and slipped off the bed to hug her. “It okay, Ay. Either way, it’s okay.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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