Chapter 166: Shahin
Someone help us 'cause we're doing our best
Trying to make things work, but man, these times are hard

"I think part of the problem is, she doesn't know she's broken." Shahin looked over their late-night Café dinner at Emrys, her lips pursed in thought. "She doesn't know that we're trying to fix her, because she can't see the cracks."

"I'd lay odds that's actually part of the damage," he replied. "She was taught that that's just the way people are."

"Oof," Shahin frowned. "How do you think we can teach her differently?"

"Well, we're already helping, just by not being Ardell and Delaney. She hasn't slipped and called either of us by their names in a long time now."

"But we only have so long. We can't Keep her forever."

"Yeah, I know," he sighed - wistfully, maybe? They needed to be done with her, definitely, and soon. "The problem is, for all our experimentation, we don't really know what it's like. Neither of us have lived through that kind of treatment for an entire year like she did. It'd be easier if we had some perspective."

"Well," she said quietly. "There's cy'Pelletier. Or borrowing Bowen. Or Ofir."

"Ofir wouldn't be helpful; besides, he's just a wannabe," Emrys said dismissively. "But cy'Pelletier..." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Don't you have one of those meetings tonight?"

She shook her head, startled, as always, at his giant blind spots when it came to his crew. But he had a point. "I do. I could… I could bring her along, I guess?"

"It could help. Do you think they'd be okay with that? I don't really know what the deal is, there; my cy'ree stopped the meetings after the contest ended."

"Well, we do call it the support group," she mused. "I think they'd be okay as long it wasn't an all-the-time thing."

"It's worth a shot, then. What's the worst that could happen?"

"Mmm." She considered. "Xaviera could say something that upsets Eris or Callista, triggering a cy'ree-wide melee?"

"Cy'ree-wide melee, huh?" He chuckled, clearly trying to imagine that. "I suspect Eris would be the one to watch out for, in that."

"I do share a cy'ree with Nikolai and Carter," she reminded him. "And Channing is poisonous."

"Nick wouldn't know where to begin, and Carter'd be too busy making sure no one got hurt. But okay, granted. Hopefully it doesn't come to that."

"Agreed." A little grimly, she added, "and all I could do is snark artistically."

"Or blow everyone away with your magic. Whichever." He grinned a little. "So, make sure she stays civil."

She was startled at the blush coming to her cheeks. "I couldn't…" she protested. She hadn't done a damn thing when the dragon attacked them, had she?

She'd learned so much since then, though. If she really had to…

"Do you really think I could hurt someone?" It was a mildly uncomfortable thought.

"If something really important was on the line?" Emrys nodded. "Yeah, I think you're strong enough."

It was a very, very uncomfortable proposition. She nodded, biting her lip. "Thank you. I guess I can probably handle one Kept."

"Let's go get her, then. Shall we?"

She reached for his hand blindly, nodding. If she was strong enough now, could she have been so, then? "The dragon…" she said quietly.

Emrys led her away with a pensive expression. "What about it?"

"I could have done something, stopped him somehow… couldn't I?"

"There was nothing any of us could do. Taro and I tried, and we both have a year's experience in battle magic on you."

She nodded, and clung tightly to his hand. "I hate feeling like I just let him… just let him hurt us," she whispered.

"Sheen." Emrys stopped, turning towards her with a serious expression. "It wasn't your fault. Not in the slightest."

She nodded, mostly believing him. "I know. It's just…" I still see his face sometimes when I wake up.

"Just what?" he frowned.

"I was supposed to protect you. I couldn't even protect myself."

"None of us could. Better not to dwell on it, now."

She nodded. He, she imagined, likely wanted to dwell on it no more than she did. "So Xaviera," she agreed.

"Xaviera," he nodded. The rest of the walk home was pleasantly uneventful, and, by the time they reached their room, she could bring herself to release his fingers. Xaviera was waiting for them, of course; the girl hardly seemed to have a life of her own, these days. It wasn't healthy.

Shahin smiled at her. "How are you tonight, sweetie?"

"All right," she answered noncommittally, adding, "I finished all of my work." Shahin and Emrys had both emphasized the importance of actually completing her schoolwork; she wasn't the most studious type to begin with, but apparently her first Keeper had given her the idea that she wasn't to be distracted with such when he was around.

"That's good," Shahin encouraged her. "Do you want us to look over your work later?"

"No? I mean, you can if you want to I guess, but it should be fine." "All right," she agreed. After all, the girl was two years ahead of her. She glanced at Emrys, and then back to Xaviera. "I've got a cy'ree meeting tonight."

"Have fun?" the girl offered tentatively.

"Why don't you come with," she coaxed.

"To your meeting?" Xaviera blinked, apparently startled. "But I'm not in your cy'ree."

"That's okay," she murmured. "Maybe you ought to have been."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

She shook her head. "Nothing, I'm sorry. Why don't you come with me, though?"

"Okay? I mean, if you want me there, sure."

She offered Xav a hand and a smile. "Yes, please."

Xaviera took the hand, even as she glanced about the room. "Do I need to bring anything? And am I dressed appropriately?"

She studied the girl's outfit. "You're fine, and I'll grab the chips and dip if you grab the soda."

With a quick nod, Xaviera turned to raid the refrigerator. "Okay." Prepared and laden with food, they headed for the cy'ree meeting, Shahin doing her best to hide her uncertainty. There were so many ways this could go badly.

When they reached Carter's room, he opened the door with a smile that quickly turned to uncertainty. "What's up, Shahin?"

"I thought," she said carefully, "maybe Xav could benefit from our meeting as well…"

He gave the blonde girl a hard look for a moment before nodding. "All right. Come on in, both of you."

"Thank you, Carter." She squeezed Xaviera's hand reassuringly and led her into the room. "We brought chips, dip, and soda." She held forward her half of the load as a peace offering.

"Hey, thanks. You wanna drop them on the table there?" Carter gestured as the rest of the room took in the new arrival. Nikolai was clearly surprised, but didn't seem to mind the intrusion; Eris was almost the opposite on both counts, to Shahin's judgment. Channing barely seemed to react at all. Callista and Kendra apparently hadn't yet arrived - if they were going to.

Shahin set her stuff down and took the rest of it from Xaviera, giving them a minute to look and react, to decide what, if anything, they were going to say. Introductions seemed silly - it was a small school and they all knew everyone else - but she wasn't sure what else to say to break the ice.

"You've started bringing her with you everywhere, I see," Eris said casually; Shahin could sense the barbs hiding beneath the surface of that observation, though, waiting to catch her reply.

She met the girl's gaze levelly. "Considering our cy'ree," she answered quietly, "I thought she might benefit from the company. Nothing against cy'Akinobu, but they're not necessarily the most… supportive…?"

That seemed to put her more at ease, although there was still some caution. "Sure. You didn't happen to run into either of the others out there?"

She shook her head. "No, more's the shame. From what Jamian told me, Ofir's getting tighter and tighter with his grip on Kendra. It's almost like he's afraid she'll wander off."

"Some Keepers get paranoid like that," Carter said, nodding. "Particularly the weaker ones."

A moment later, there was another knock at the door, however. Carter answered it and welcomed Callista and Kendra, who were walking hand in hand. Shahin noted that, saving her curiosity for later, and settled onto the edge of the bed, keeping one eye on Xaviera and the other on Eris. Was this going to blow up?

"Sorry we're late," Kendra squeaked as they settled in; she seemed oblivious to the fact that Callista was using her as a shield against Xaviera. Shahin frowned down at her Kept worriedly. She didn't want to upset her cy'ree. Of course, frowning at her Kept only upset her; Xaviera shrank in on herself, wondering what she'd already done wrong.

She sighed. "Come here, sweetie," she murmured gently, holding out an arm.

Carter cleared his throat even as Xaviera nestled against Shahin.

"So," he began, "perhaps you'd like to speak first today, Shahin."


  Copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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