Chapter 187: Shahin
"How do you think she's doing?" Shahin leaned into Emrys' arms, swaying slowly with the music. So different than their first dance… but, for the moment, neither of them had anything to prove.
"She's probably doing rather well." Xaviera had left the dance early with a drunk and handsy Ofir, a determined smile on her face. "You coached her pretty thoroughly."
"She's not as stupid as she tends to come off. And who knows, it might be good for both of them, in the long run."
"Or they might regress into horrid habits."
"I'd thought of it." She tilted her head up to smile at him. "But I like to think we helped her and, besides, we can still talk to her."
"Talk." There was a wicked gleam of amusement in his eyes. "And just talk?"
"Preferably." She wouldn't be ashamed of that. "I didn't marry you to keep sharing you, you know."
"Not at all?"
"We can talk about that later. If it comes up." It would, she was sure, but she didn't want to think about that today. They'd just sent Xaviera out the door, after all. "At the worst, we've taken care of almost all of our obligations from the wedding."
"Shahin?" Kai's voice was tiny and tense. Shahin hadn't even heard her coming up, "I was wondering if, ah… I need your help?"
She separated from Emrys enough to look at her friend. Pale, paler than her normal complexion allowed for, worried, her hair lackluster. Mabina hadn't done her up for this dance, then, although she'd made a decent attempt at a lovely Cleopatra look. She was worried, and behind her, Conrad was worried and angry.
"Let's talk, out in the hall," she offered. Kailani nodded but then, as they started to walk, made a small whimper noise.
"Both of you?"
"Well, we are married. I can tell him everything later, or you can tell him everything now."
"But…" her voice dropped so low that Shahin had to read her lips. "It's about Agatha."
"Oh." They said it both at once, Emrys and she. "Well… we do owe you a favor, from those lovely ice candles." And with Kai, they hadn't put in the thousand clauses they'd put in other cases.
Emrys squeezed her hand. "We do," he agreed. Shahin was pretty sure even Kailani could hear the unhappiness in his voice. "Let's go talk about it."
"All right, I guess. I really do need help… I got us into a mess." She and the silent shadow that was Conrad followed them into the hall.
"How bad of a mess?" Emrys shifted his posture, looking for all the world like a lawyer at a trial. "With Agatha, I presume? In retaliation for the stunt you pulled with Anatoliy and Bowen?"
"Yes." She was sniffling into her toga. "She's done something to Mea and 'Lisha and now they hate Taro and Vlad."
"'Lisha?" Emrys tensed. "And wait, she's tampering with Mea?"
Kai shrank back against Conrad, who was glaring at them balefully over her shoulder. "Yes," he answered for her. "She's messed with Mea and 'Lisha."
"With her sister and another man's Kept." Emrys pursed his lips. "All right. You're not surprised that she's seeking revenge, of course."
"Of course not." Kai wiped her hair out of her eyes. "I'm not stupid. She promised to get back at me. And I'm learning I can't trust anyone anywhere. But Shahin is my friend…" she faltered. "And… And I guess I have to hope I can trust you guys to help, because I don't know what to do."
"She wants to take your friends away." Emrys was pacing now, slowly letting go of Shahin's hand to, she supposed, better think. "And she thinks this will do it. After all, you took her friends from her."
"I didn't…. I guess I did. But Tolly still loves her. And you're still her friends." She backed up into Conrad more, and he wrapped his arms more tightly around her.
Shahin waited to see what Emrys would say. Agatha and Tolly were in his crew, not hers, after all.
"Agatha helped me out," he answered slowly. "Like she helped out Dysmas. We're crew, and I'd stand with her in a fight." Kai winced, trying to back up further. "However, we owe you a favor, and she doesn't have the Law nor family goodwill on her side this time. Get yourself cleaned up and stop sniveling. We'll help."
"She's not sniveling," Conrad snapped. "She's had a shitty few days, that's all."
"It's okay, Conrad. I got us into this mess and I know it. I need to make its better." She stood up a bit straighter. "Thank you, Emrys. Shahin. So… What are we going to do?"
"First, we need to find out what's happened, and see if we can get Agatha to tell us anything. Tell me and Shahin, I'd say. And then we need to bargain with her, scare her, or challenge her." He frowned thoughtfully. "I'd rather not see her hurt, but she is messing with the Law if she's been touching Alisha at all."
"She's smart." Kai straightened her toga. "How do we get her to admit it?"
"We let her see she's hurting you. Your friends are leaving you. She wants to win, so you need to make it look like she's winning."
She squirmed. "How do I know you're not just helping her win?"
"Because I give you my word that, in this matter, I am aiding you and not her." He glowered, but Shahin could see happiness behind the glower. Kai was learning. There might be hope for her yet.
And she relaxed a little bit. "In this matter." She nodded. "Thank you. What would you suggest?"
"Move back into your bedroom. If you really want to play it up - and you think you can do it - move Tolly in there with you, and leave Conrad with his crew. Cry a lot." He smirked. "You should be able to do that."
"I should, yes," she nodded, with a rueful smile.
"I don't like this." Conrad's objection was bald and a little bit naked. "Leaving Kaia…"
"Look, you're her Kept. Nobody's going to be surprised if you creep into her room at night. Just be grumpy about the whole thing and you should be fine."
"And what makes you the perfect puppetmaster here?"
"Well, your Keeper asked us for help, and of everyone here, I know how to deal with Agatha."
Their little group went quiet, staring at him. Even Shahin held her breath. He'd never been willing to hear anything negative about her before.
He coughed, and, for once in his life, looked the slightest bit embarrassed. "Aggie's my crew. As I said, she helped Dysmas and I out, and showed us the ropes. She and Tolly. She's a bit full of herself, but she's brilliant and an amazing magic-user in a school where those are the things that matter."
Emrys plowed right over Kailani's objection. "She puts her crew first, above everything, above everyone else. And that's how it's supposed to be. Your scheme to get Bowen away from her, that was your right, and it was probably better for him - and it didn't hurt my crew, so I didn't object. Tolly walked right into your collar, anyway."
Shahin studied him thoughtfully. Crew came first. Where did that leave wives?
He draped a possessive arm around her shoulders and tugged her closer to him. "Look, what I'm trying to say is that I'm loyal to Agatha, because she's my crew, and my sister. But I'm not blind to her flaws."
That was the first Shahin had heard of it. She nodded slowly. "So we'll help Kai."
"So we'll help Kai," he agreed. "That starts with tonight. Do you think you can engineer a fight? Have Mabina yell at you or something?"
The redhead winced. "Having 'Bina yell at me isn't generally a problem."
"Ha, well, I'm somehow not surprised. She's very strong-willed. So do that. Make it a scene. Like your first dance, only louder, if you can. Storm out. After that, it shouldn't take too long." Emrys' smile was grim and amused. "Agatha likes to gloat."
"So the plan is…?" Conrad was still frowning. "We get her to gloat, to admit what she's done, then what?"
"Then we face her down with the admission of her wrong-doing, especially against the Law, and force her to concede that she owes Vlad for the indecision. Much as she did to you, Kailani."
"And that will work?"
"Well, I can't guarantee anything. But getting her in a position where she can't avoid admitting wrong-doing will put both her and the Director in an uncomfortable spot. I don't imagine she'll hold out long after that."
"I don't know how long Taro and Vlad are going to be able to hold out." Conrad tugged Kai closer to him as his admission made her wince more.
"Well then," Emrys smirked, "we'll have to do this as quickly and as loudly as we can."
Copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder. All rights reserved.
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