Dark Days Past
This story takes place on the Sunday after Hell Night, the Fifth Year of the Addergoole School
“It didn’t start out bad.”
Eris lay in the shade of the giant oak tree, trying to ignore the panicky pang that kept her with one hand on Mark’s forearm and the other squeezing Kylie’s hand. The words weren’t adequate, but short of downloading it into their brains – trauma she was unwilling to inflict on them, trauma that Mark would probably never forgive – she had no other option.
“I mean… at first, it was just like dating. At very first, it was dating, just with a promise here and there. I’ve got this mouth on me, I’m sure you noticed, so getting trapped into promises was pretty common, and Shad was really good at doing that, too.” She grumbled, the frustration of being so easily tricked, over and over again, still grating on her a year later. “And I was dumb.”
“It happens,” Mark assuaged her. “It happens to a lot of people, here, it seems. Then it changed, with the Belonging?”
“Not right away.” She shook her head, remembering. “He was a bit controlling, but a lot of guys are, I guess. I just… I couldn’t take being controlled, so I fought back. Um. A lot. And it made him angry.” She whispered the last part, fighting the feeling that he’d show up at any moment to take her back.
Mark put an arm around her shoulder, letting her lean on him. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
She relaxed into his strength, stupidly glad of the reassurance. “Not right now,” she murmured. “And… and he didn’t, right away. He didn’t understand why I hated being Owned so much, I think. Megan really hadn’t, and Delaney and Ardell, well, that’s because of the way Meshach grabbed them. But Shad was dating me, and I ought to be grateful for that. Grateful he wasn’t just tying me to the bed and raping me.” The words tasted like stale blood in her mouth.
“At first,” Mark said quietly.
She curled up tightly against him. This was a dumb idea. He didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to say it. “At first,” she agreed. “But I figured…” stupid, stupid, stupid, “if I was enough trouble, he’d have to let me go.”
“It wasn’t a bad idea, really. You didn’t know better. We wouldn’t have known better, without you.”
“Yeah.” She squeezed Kylie’s hand gently. Sometimes she wished she’d been a little less ethical with them. “I’m pretty good at being really, really bad. For a while, I thought it was going to work. He got really sick of cleaning up after the messes I made.” She smiled faintly, remembering the look on Shad’s face when he realized she’d gotten him in a challenge with Donegal.
“He didn’t let you go, though?”
She shuddered. “No. No, he didn’t. I think he thought, if he hit me enough, if he gave me enough orders, I’d somehow turn into a good little girl. I mean, Joff was good and didn’t fight Meshach at all. Rafe didn’t give Liza any trouble.”
“You’re a bit more rebellious,” Mark grinned.
It was weird to have someone approve so strongly of that. She nodded slowly. “Yeah. I couldn’t stop fighting.” She twitched a little, remembering the moments when she wished she could.
“But he tried to make you stop.”
“Yeah. Orders, orders at first. I think he thought that would be enough. But, ah, I’m rather clever.” She sighed. “So sharp I cut myself.” She twitched, then. That had been a bad day. But that had been later. “It was easy to worm around his orders, at least at first. And, even as he layered on more and more, he couldn’t keep me from classes.” Mark just nodded, listening to her tale. She smiled at him ruefully. “Thank you. I...” She caught a sob before it could get out. “So he’d give an order, and I’d find a way around it, and he’d punish me, and give me a new order.” Said like that, it sounded cut-and-dried, clinical.
“Punish you,” Mark said softly, with just the faintest hint of question.
Eris swallowed hard, reminding herself that Mark had never turned his strength against her. “Little stuff at first. He’d slap me, or he’d take away something I liked, or send me to bed without supper.”
“Like a kid,” he said with some surprise.
Eris winced. “Yeah. Like a kid.” She pulled Kylie closer to her, looking over at her fox-eared lover thoughtfully. She was listening, even if she had nothing to say, and cuddled up closer to Eris.
Grateful for the contact, Eris petted the younger girl while she tried to make her thoughts have some order.
“That didn’t work. If there hadn’t been classes, it might have. I might have broken. But I had time away from him, so I kept figuring out ways to fight him. “
“And he kept pushing harder,” Mark nodded.
“Meshach and Barnaby and Liza had such nice Kept, pretty and obedient and docile,” she answered bitterly. “And he had me.”
“So he wanted to... make you like them?”
“Make me better.” She twitched again, trying not to feel so cold against their warmth. “And nothing worked. Every time he punished me, it just made me angrier, and made me act out more.”
“A vicious cycle.”
“Vicious is right. Finally… well, I don’t think feeding me to cy’Linden was supposed to be a punishment at first. I mean, everyone he knew liked sleeping with everyone else.”
She winced, pulling away from him. “I know you don’t like it. I’m sorry.” She felt miserable, making him unhappy, without even the bond of being Kept to blame it on.
“Hey...” He leaned in closer, trying to keep her there without restraining her. “It’s okay.”
It’s okay. Sandwiched between the two of them, she could believe that. She smiled shakily at him. “That’s… that’s where it started getting bad. Ty isn’t a bad sort, but some of the others like playing rough. And they found out how well I could heal.”
“And... yeah. Yeah.”
She watched it cross their faces, the understanding, and rubbed her wrists, where it felt like she ought to have scars, where sometimes she was surprised she couldn’t feel the naked bones. “It only got really bad once,” she whispered. “‘Vette had been drinking, I think. I know Shad had. And, I’d,” she gulped. “I’d been mouthy. I mean, mouthier than usual.”
“Ivette. This is why she’s afraid of you.”
The idea was absurd, but she didn’t laugh. Mark cared about Ivette. Really cared, maybe as much as he cared about Kylie and Eris. She coughed instead. “I guess so.” Stupid. Who’d hurt who? “You asked me not to hurt her,” she reminded him.
“She was terrified,” he replied quietly. “Thought you’d want to kill her, for what she’d done. Thought I’d let you, when I heard it.”
“I don’t want to get expelled,” she answered dryly. And then, because Mark cared about Ivette, “I don’t want to kill her. I don’t even want to hurt her that much.” Seeking revenge on Ivette was like wanting revenge on a bear for attacking you.
“I’ve sidetracked you,” he reminded her gently.
She bit her lip. “Oh, yeah.” She’d been hoping he wouldn’t notice that. “Shad.” She frowned, worrying at the bit spot on her lip before it could heal shut. “That. After that he had to be more careful. Meshach yelled at him for it.” All the blood. All of her blood, and the pain, the pain that wouldn’t stop, and over it all the terror, the fear she’d lost the baby. The fear she tried to ignore, that she’d finally gone far enough and he’d let her go, leave her there on Caitrin’s doorstep like an unwanted child.
“Meshach...” Mark shook his head. “Right.”
“He made a mess,” she explained dryly. Easier to say that than think about what the mess had been. “He made enough of a mess that teachers noticed.”
“They did? What did they do?”
“Nothing.” She sighed; that wasn’t really true. “Well, they threw a holy fit. But they asked questions, and, you know, it’s not like we could answer them and it’s not like our owners would be honest.”
“So basically they realized something was happening, but they couldn’t get a clearer picture.”
She nodded. “Or didn’t care to pry enough to. But it freaked Shad out enough, that and almost losing the baby, that he dialed back a little.” She sighed, leaning against Mark’s strength. “It was May, anyway. I think they figured if we could survive until they all graduated, we’d be okay.”
“As much as you were going to be,” he said quietly.
“Yeah.” She clung tight to him. “We all survived. I think that’s as okay as we could be expected to be.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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