Fifty years in the future, Pennsylvania: “Now, I think you'd better tell me what you did to Regine.”
As quickly as it had come, Rozen’s smile vanished, leaving him glowering down at Kai. She struggled to remember, again, that he was no threat to her. “What if I don’t want to?”
“I think you’ll find that’s not an option.” Decades of Dean-ship meant her voice was level and crisp, despite the fears that were making her stomach twist in knots.
“You won’t like it.” His arms were shaking, lightly enough that he might not have noticed and a normal outsider certainly wouldn’t have.
“Regine may be mad, but it’s fairly certain that anything that would cause her to do this to you wouldn’t make me happy, either,” she pointed out reasonably. Some small forgotten part of her reminded her that this was not how one treated one’s Kept, if one wanted to maintain any control at all, but it seemed kinder, considering what had been done to him, to ease into it.
He looked back at the crate, and back to her. “And if she just put me in the crate because she felt like being unkind and vindictive?”
“Vindictive would still suggest you’d done something to her, and unkind goes without saying.” They didn’t have that long before Petra returned with Tempest, and she wanted things straight with him before they dealt with other people. “Tell me, Rozen, honestly, what you did to cause Regine to send you to me.”
“I don’t know,” he grumbled, the words dragged out of him by the Bond. “I didn’t do anything I haven’t done before, but this time, she decided to pack me up like a Thanksgiving turkey and stick me in the mail.”
Mail. Thanksgiving turkey. They were as harsh of anachronisms as, say, “web surfing,” and “smartphones,” but she doubted even Regine would bind someone with hawthorn for failing to modernize.
“Well, what was it that you were doing, then, that you don’t understand why she punished you for this time?” When he hesitated again, she said, a bit sharply, “tell me, Rozen.”
“I was accepting payment from communities in exchange for protection from certain dangerous threats in their vicinity.”
That didn’t, in itself, sound bad, but, “what kind of threats, exactly?”
He grimaced. “Myself, for example.”
“Ah.” That made more sense, and she couldn’t help a tiny smile, too. “I can see why that would irritate her, if you continued to do it. And the payments?”
He shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
“That’s never a wise thing to assume. Similar to your payments, back in Addergoole?” She knew she was letting him off the hook again. She couldn’t quite justify it to herself this time, and yet she did it anyway.
You can’t like him, he’s a monster. But she’d liked worse.
He smirked at her. “You could say that, yes.”
“That doesn’t make it better, you realize. If anything, it makes it worse.”
“Well, Regine punished me for it,” he said reasonably.
“She did, but clearly not enough.” She frowned, remembering the discussions they’d had, back before the world ended, about how to treat one’s Kept. She wondered if he was remembering the same conversations. “If this city didn’t have anti-slavery laws,” that I established “I’d collar you right now. And one sign of trouble and I will lock you down with orders so tightly you’ll have to ask permission to pee.”
He actually looked startled at that, and she couldn’t help a small, tight smile of pleasure. “I’m not a teenager anymore, and a couple years’ difference in age really doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, does it?”
“No…” he answered slowly. He might have said more, but a knock at the door silenced them both. She hastily put up her Mask and unlocked the door. “Come in.”
Her granddaughter Tempest entered, trailed by Petra. “Dean Storm, what seems to be… oh. Oh my.” She shut the door behind them and threw the bolt. “Is that...” her eyes fell from Rozen to the crate. “Was that… oh, my.”
Kai nodded. “Rozen, the Dark Knight, this is my granddaughter Dr. Tempest, the Moonlit, and you’ve met Petra the Earthquake. Tempest, it’s Rozen oro’Kailani.” She might as well get it out of the way right away, and, besides, the damage would take every added advantage to heal.
“Dr. Avonmorea mailed him to me that way. So, yes, for the time being. I signed for him.”
“Mailed…?” Tempest was looking paler than normal as she took in the pile of hawthorn.
“She was really annoyed,” Rozen offered helpfully. His shaking was increasing. Kai shoved a chair in his direction.
“Sit down,” she snapped; with a grumpy, frustrated look of relief, he did. “Tempest, I know you can’t do much for the hawthorn poisoning, but can you help with the rest?”
“I’ll take a look.” She walked over to their seated prisoner, causing Petra to bounce uncomfortably, trying to be in between both Storms and him. “It’s all right, Petra. He’s not going to bite.”
“He does, you know,” Petra offered helpfully. “My mother showed me the scar.”
At that, Rozen laughed, although it was nowhere near the deep, menacing sound Kai remembered. “Ah, that was fun. She squirmed too much.”
Kai elbowed her way between her bodyguard and her possession before they started a brawl. “Petra, stand down. Rozen, don’t taunt Petra about her mother.” Grumbling, both of them fell silent long enough for Tempest to begin a Working.
A moment later, a long moment full of three-cornered glaring, Tempest nodded. “He’s stabilized. The poison is going to take months to work its way out of his system, but he’s not going to die of it, as long as he gets back up to a healthy weight. I’ll send Amy up with some broth. Light foods for the first week, nothing stronger than a weak broth and maybe a piece of bread. Then he can move on to solid foods, slowly.”
“He’s right here,” Rozen grumped.
“He’s also a possession,” Tempest snapped back at him, “and an ill-mannered one to boot.”
“I thought slavery was illegal in this town,” he pointed out.
“Human law has never superseded Ellehemaei Law, and, as it’s mutable while the Law is not, it never will.”
That surprised a laugh out of Rozen. “She’s Conrad’s granddaughter, isn’t she? She’s too smart-mouthed to be anything but.”
Kai’s lips twitched in something between a sob and a smile. “Yes. Although I think she gets most of it from her other grandparents.”
“She’s right here,” Tempest echoed back at them. “You two are as bad as my parents.”
“That’s because I’m your grandmother, dear.” There were a few advantages to being, or appearing, old, and Kai enjoyed that one most of all. “And it’s just a matter of good taste on your mother's part that Rozen isn’t your grandfather.”
“Hey!” He was looking a bit better, although the trembling was getting worse. She was going to have to feed him soon.
“Well, it’s true,” she retorted unrepentantly. “I’m sure you’d be capable of fathering an intelligent and wonderful child, but you don’t pick the best of mothers for such things.”
“Hey!” Petra complained, and then, a moment later, “Yeah… you’re right. Mom’s not the brightest bulb.”
“Lo-” Rozen’s mouth snapped shut, and he frowned perplexedly. “Damn. So that’s what that feels like.”
“I’ll go get Amy to make some broth before we waste all day arguing,” Tempest decided. “Always fun to meet your school buddies, Grandma. They’re so… entertaining.” She left, a small flurry of wind following her.
“She’s leaking again,” Petra frowned. “You must really piss her off, Uncle Rozen. I’ll go warn her to rein it in.” She headed out the door, leaving Rozen shaking his head.
“It makes as much sense as anything else.” Kai walked around his chair twice, looking at him. What are you going to do with him? “What am I going to do with you? You don’t really fit in to an academic setting at all…”
“I fit in without any difficulty at Addergoole.”
“Addergoole West was only nominally an academic setting. There are humans at this school. Tolerant, patient humans, but nonetheless, human. You don’t seem to have a very good track record dealing with humans. Or, for that matter, with teenaged women of any species.”
“Didn’t you say you were retiring? You weren’t planning on staying at the school, were you, after you faked your own death?”
He had a point. "No, no I wasn't." She walked to the sink and filled a glass with water, to give herself a moment to think, to remember what he'd looked like on Hell Night, leering in her ear, to remember the way he'd talked about those who Belonged as little more than pets. Possessions, to be taken care of, but not to be treated like equals. To remember what he'd just confessed.
"What did you do to them? The girls you took as tribute?"
"I took good care of them, and when their time was up, released them back to their families."
"Mm-hrmm." She brought the glass to him. "Drink." She could ask him about that took good care of at a later date. Right now, she had more immediate concerns. "Answer me honestly. When we are alone, always answer me honestly and without attempting to deceive." It had taken her a while to learn that "honesty" and "non-deceptive" were different things.
He said nothing, so she continued. "What are your plans?" Stalling, are we? Or basing your plans around him? A little of both, probably, and a little self-preservation.
"I..." He frowned, as the orders forced words out, and spoke slowly. "I haven't decided yet. I just got let out of a shipping carton and discovered you owned me, Red. I haven't had a lot of time to make plans."
She was going to prompt him, but the second half of the order seemed to be pushing at him. "But I'd thought about trying to coerce you into freeing me, somehow. Or going along for the ride and seeing what happens." He paused again, and then added unwillingly, "at least until I'm back up to full strength."
"You're going to be loads of fun to have around," she murmured dryly. "Well." She picked up a brush, trying hard not to remember the last time she'd done this, trying not to think about Conrad. As she ran it slowly through his hair, working out tangles that had grown into knots, she tried to keep that threat at the front of her mind, and shoved aside her squeamishness about giving orders.
“Don't hurt me or attempt to attack, coerce, or harm anyone in this school, except in clear defense of me. Don't engage in activity designed to cause me harm or to free yourself. Don’t…”
She continued, watching the muscles in his back spasm as he felt the orders close in around him. She felt a little guilty, but not enough to stop until she felt she’d covered all contingencies. By then, Amy was there with the broth.
She patted his broad shoulder, missing, a little wistfully, his natural coloration. “When you’re up to strength, we’ll travel south.”
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