Year Six of the Addergoole School, and later
Rory had no idea whatsoever what was going on. When the pretty pink-haired girl had wrapped six arms around him on Hell Night and claimed “Mine” in the face of the tentacled monster bearing down on him, it hadn’t seemed like all that bad a thing. Heck, at that moment he probably would have agreed to just about anything just to get to dinner.
And now… Now, a week later, he’d found himself moved into her bedroom, sleeping in her bed (or, once when he’d somehow pissed her off, in her closet, which wasn’t as bad as he’d thought it might be), and doing what she told him. Whatever she told him, which could be a little strange once in a while, but he didn’t really mind washing dishes. He found he didn’t mind much at all of what she did, as long as she stayed near him.
It occurred to him, as he sat curled at her feet in the living room with her friends, that he ought to mind some of what she did at least a little. Sure, he missed his friends, and it annoyed him that she didn’t seem to give him any time to hang out with them anymore, but that wasn’t really the same as minding – like this. Sitting at her feet being petted like a dog. He had the feeling it ought to bother him, but it felt so nice that she was touching him.
“How are you doing, Rory?” Ioanna’s gentle question cut into his reverie, and, looking up, he realized everyone in the room was looking at him. When had the conversation stopped?
“Um…” Everything’s fine. That’s what she wants you to say. Callista’s hands had stilled on his shoulders, and Vi and Ayla were looking at him with an odd intensity. “Pretty good. I mean, history class is killing me, but I figure I’ll get the hang of it eventually.” There, that was honest, right? And Mistress - no, Callista, they weren’t alone – was patting his shoulder, and that was good, too, right?
“He’s pretty entertaining, too, Io,” she purred, the praise sounding so good that it took a moment for the rest of what she was saying to sink in. “Would you like to give him a try?”
Wait, what? He turned to stare at her. She couldn’t have meant that the way he thought she did, could she have? She looked so cool about it, too. Like she was offering to lend Ioanna a pair of shoes.
“Callie!” He turned back to the orange-haired girl, torn between anger that she was yelling at Mistress and relief that she didn’t think this was a good idea. Although she was really pretty…
“What?” It was like watching a ping-pong match. “What? Oh, you really don't swing that way at all, do you? I’m sorry,” Callista said contritely.
“No, Callie, I mean, boys aren’t bad, once in a while, but you know Ayla and I are together.”
Oh. Shit, was she going to offer him to Yngvi next?
“I didn’t realize you were doing the monogamy thing.” His mistress didn’t sound so contrite any more, more put out. “You and Ayla could share?”
“One, I’m pretty sure she’s his sister, two, no, and three, Callie, you can’t just pimp out your Kept like that.”
His sister? What? Wait, what? Callista’s hands were clenching on his shoulders. He wished Ioanna would just stick with “no, thanks, I’m gay.”
“Why not? He’s mine.”
Um. Well, yeah, it looked like he was, but… um?
Ioanna looked – not taken aback, not annoyed, but more like she was tired and a little sad. “Departed gods, Callie, I knew it was bad with Ib, but… that bad?”
Ib? More importantly, was Io actually explaining something? Rory held very still, hoping they’d forget he was there.
“That's just how Keeping works,” Callista answered matter-of-factly. “He'll sleep with whichever people I want, as many at a time as I want, when and where I want.”
Um. He really wanted to object, but the kitchen was already spotless and the closet wasn’t all that comfortable to sleep in. And, somewhere under the nerves, he was beginning to understand things. That’s just how Keeping works. And Ib? Had he “Kept” Callista? Like that?
If he survived the year, he was going to have some words with this Ib person.
Her time as Ib’s slave would never be something Callista was comfortable discussing, but, over the years, Rory had managed to put together a picture of that time. They made it through his first year of school with Ioanna’s patience tutelage: “No, Callie, that’s not how it works. I’m sorry, sweetie” became the orange-haired girl’s mantra. It seemed there was almost nothing Callista had been taught about Keeping or being Kept that matched Io’s worldview and, in most cases, Rory was more than glad for the intervention.
Even with the help, it was a rocky and tumultuous time. He often found his mistress curled in a corner sobbing, and even more often found himself sitting in the closet wondering how he’d gotten there. Somehow, they got through the hard times, enough that there were also good times, enough that, as the year wore on, the good outweighed the bad.
Even at the end, there were days he wished she’d just leave him be, but when she graduated, he found himself a little lost. Even after the shock of the bond breaking was gone, he missed her company; even in bed with the inevitable-for-Addergoole other lovers, he missed her. It seemed natural to seek her out, to send her a letter, and then another, and then to call her.
Keeping in touch after that wasn’t as hard as he’d thought it might be. He didn’t flatter himself that she was as in love with him as he seemed to be with her, but he was a good listener and, having belonged to her, he was categorized as “safe.” She only had him and Io to talk to, really, and Io had never worn the collar; after what she had been through, the freedom of the outside world was sometimes terrifying. He talked her through those times when no-one else could understand her fear, and did what he could to soothe her nightmares.
He spent every holiday he could with her, just laying in bed with her, letting her pretend he was still safe, still hers, still unable to hurt her, and, when three years later he, too, escaped from Addergoole, he looked her up. He tried hard not to expect anything when he showed up on her doorstep, but was still relieved when she let him in.
One thing followed the next, and, while the walk down the aisle was more a practical matter than an emotional one, her kids grew up calling him “dad” more than his own did.
He’d decided, when he first helped Callista with her three children, when he first held his own daughter Hope, when he and Ellen were still flush with that thing they’d thought was love, that if he was going to be “dad” to anyone, he was going to be the best father he could be.
For seven years, full-time with Callista’s three and every-other-weekend and three holidays a year with his own two, that became Rory’s focus in life: to raise “his” kids the way his own mostly-absent father ought to have raised him, to teach them everything they’d need to know to survive in a world that was darker than he ever wanted them to discover.
The geasa that Regine had layered on all of them kept him from explaining things to the kids exactly as they were, but there were ways around everything, and their kids were pretty sharp. So Rory taught them “never make a promise you’re not certain you can keep” as a matter of honor instead of Law. He taught them how to fight under a number of pretenses and then, as they reached their early teens, with no pretense at all. He took all of them on hunting trips, and to target practice, until his ten-year-old son could hit his mark more consistently than most men four times his aim.
He taught them how to be strong, and how to be gentle – things he had learned from his oft-absent father. And, as he took Delilah out shooting, he began to tell her what her biological father had done to her mother.
And now… now the world was ending, or it looked that way, but their kids were still going to the Addergoole School. They couldn’t put Delilah on a plane, not with the mess all around them, so they drove her to the school, and Rory tried to ignore the tension in his wife’s shoulders, the fear she was trying so hard to hide. This hadn’t been the easiest place for him, but for Callista, it had been hell and torture. And here they would be sending their children. Here they would be leaving their children to the same hell that had begat them.
Never had Rory fought a geas more than he struggled with that one, never had he researched so much, trying to find a way around it for Callista. For their children. But the oaths their parents had sworn still bound them and their children, and, with a head pounding from the fight, Rory had helped Delilah get ready for school.
“Remember what I’ve told you,” he told her for the nineteenth time, as the wards around the school parted to let them through.
“Always clean my weapons. Never lie. Never say anything I’m not absolutely certain I mean. And if someone grabs me from behind, fight first, ask questions later.” She rolled her eyes, the way teenagers did, and Rory suppressed a smile.
“Don’t forget to allow for recoil when aiming,” her younger brother Brand offered, grinning unabashedly.
“Always keep your weapons clean,” offered Warner, looking up from his sulk - he wanted to go to school, and was still sullen that he had to wait at least another year, maybe two or three or more.
“Trust your friends,” Callista added, from the front seat. “Pick them well, and then listen when they tell you something.”
Delilah rolled her eyes again, but it was, even in the rear-view mirror, clearly a cover for a bit of actual nerves. “I’ll be fine, Mom. Dad. It’s boarding school, not basic training. And besides, I’m tougher than I look.”
She was, Rory knew. Slender and pretty like her mother, his stepdaughter looked delicate, but he was confident he’d raised her well. She’d do fine.
“I know you are, honey.” He parked the car in the Village, and, holding his wife’s hand firmly, walked with his family to the school. “You’re a strong and capable young woman. But we’re supposed to worry. It’s our job. Just like it’s your brothers’ job to be royal pains at any moment except when you actually need them.”
“And even then,” Warren smirked. “We get to be royal pains while being helpful. Kid brother privileges.” Rory, the third of four children, had taught them that one, too.
“Well, you’ll have to do it long-distance for a while.” She was just reaching around one brother to noogie the other when Callista froze, stopping them all in their tracks.
“Is that…?” Delilah had been just barely two years old the last time she saw her biological father. Rory had never seen him before. He looked innocuous, with his Mask up, an unremarkable man in his early thirties, one arm draped around the waist of a lovely Caribbean woman, the other on the shoulders of a teenage boy that was clearly their son. He didn’t look like a demon. But the tension in his wife’s back, the slow shudder of fear...
“Yes,” Callista answered, her voice painfully dead. “That’s the man that sired you, Delilah.”
She hadn’t finished the sentence when their daughter’s gun was out of the holster. Three years running, she’d medaled in the speed shooting competition, and if her brothers were good at target practice, she was that much better.
From the look on his face, Ib wasn’t expecting an attack. Rory wondered if he even recognized Callista with her Mask up; he certainly wouldn’t know the rest of them, although Warner did look a bit like his father. The gun made three muffled retorts – her birthday present had been the silencer, acquired through some of Grandpa Aelfgar’s more entertaining contacts – before the bastard knew what hit him: throat, knee, knee. Delilah crossed the intervening space, the gun held level in both hands, as Rory barked orders.
“Warren. Get your mother inside and stay there. Brand. Get the boy out of the way. Don’t hurt him if you can avoid it.” Rory went for the woman, who was staring at Delilah’s gun in confused horror.
“Rowan bullets.” Del straddled her father’s fallen form. “It’ll heal slow and nasty. It’s better than you deserve, but I was told not to kill you.”
“Come on, miss,” Rory murmured, offering the gorgeous woman - shit, succubus… his hand. “This is between Delilah and her father.” “Her… oh.” On the ground, Ib’s expression seemed to say the same thing: Oh, shit. “Jack, come over here, honey,” she called to her son. “This isn’t our business.”
“But Mom…” The boy, flanked by Brand, was doing as his mother ordered even as he complained about it. Rory felt a little kinder towards both of them for that.
“Don’t say I never warned you about playing rough, Ib,” the woman murmured, leading her son away from the mess bleeding on the ground.
“Mom, she’s going to kill him,” the boy whispered. Rory’s attention was focused on his daughter, now, and her monster of a father.
“With any luck,” Del was saying, as she holstered the gun, “you’ll never be able to speak again. I hear that messes with people.” She was a smart girl. All he’d been able to tell her about it was aim for the voicebox first when you think you’re fighting someone weird. She’d done the rest. He wondered who had made the bullets for her. Her mother? “The knees are just a thank-you gift.”
The man on the ground coughed, blood spurting from the ruin of his throat. Delilah stared down at his dispassionately. “You crippled her. I just returned the favor.”
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