May 16, 2016 by Lyn
Their early success may, Jamian was forced to admit several doors later, have been a fluke. Not that the other stops hadn’t been informative, but they painted such contrasting pictures it was hard to find any truth in them.
Aneislis, a snotty guy with an obnoxious attitude, knew almost nothing about Laws, thresholds, or Keeping – like Aelgifu, he barely seemed to believe in any of it – but he’d been one of the little blonde girl Renata’s friends, and his viewpoint on Mark’s crew, and on Keeping, was bitter.
“Yeah, Ofir’s an ass sometimes, but it’s not like he was the only guy around. But she went off with those assholes, and the only time we see her now is in class – and she’s pregnant with twins! She says everything’s all right, but with that jerk’s collar around her neck, who knows?”
Jamian made a mental note to ask Joff about that – and maybe suggest to Mark, if he dared, that he should talk to Rafe, make sure that the Kept in that suite put their clothes on once in a while and go visit their friends; he made a second note to make sure he kept going to poker nights.
As much as the boy grated on him, he made sure they gave him the same warning they’d given Aelgifu before they moved on to Aponi.
She, then, painted a totally different picture. She Belonged to Rowan, whom she referred to as her girlfriend, and seemed very happy with that arrangement. Further, she had been in Emotion class with Mark and Professor VanderLinden, and thought he was just swell, and his Kept were lucky to have him. It made Jamian’s head hurt.
Kai asked a few questions, but there seemed to be little information the girl could give them except one passing tidbit: “it’s kind of neat, actually. I can’t get stuck into any promises or anything. And, not that I would, but if I screw up, Rowan has to take care of it.”
They noted it down and moved on. Azumi was friendly but singularly unhelpful; no one in her suite was either Kept or Keeper. It seemed Finn and his crew frowned on the practice.
Bowen, they skipped, although it seemed to distress Kailani’s sense of order. Which brought them to Caity; she was dating Richard, whose crew frowned on Keeping as much as Finn’s and seemed a little uncertain about Jamian’s presence.
She couldn’t offer any more information on Keeping or Kept, but she could fill in some information on the Laws that Kailani had apparently been missing. As with Azumi, it didn’t seem necessary to warn her of much, but, as with everyone, they told her they’d provide her with all of their information when they were done.
Channing didn’t want to talk to them; she was short and rude with them but, under it, Jamian could taste uncertainty and fear. “Look, I just want to get through my time here and go back to the real world, okay?”
Kai looked like she was going to say something, so Jamian made their goodbyes quickly and dragged her off.
“That seems dangerously narrow-minded,” she complained, once they were out in the hallway.
“Maybe, but we can’t force her to think like we do… Well, maybe we could, but we won’t.”
“Right,” she agreed, although for an uncomfortable moment he’d had the feeling she’d been considering just that. “So next on our list is Elfred. Just down the hall here.”
She was getting braver, or perhaps just angry; she knocked on this door herself.
The blond boy answered his own door, and for a moment Jamian thought it was Ayla, struck by a resemblance he hadn’t noticed before. Boy, he chided himself. He was getting too accustomed to ignoring gender.
Definitely boy, the way he was grinning at Kailani, although Jamian noticed his eyes travelled over both of their necks before making it to their eyes.
“Yeah?” he asked. He sounded friendly enough, but Kai got her deer-in-the-headlights look again.
“We were hoping you’d spare us a few moments of your time?”
“You’re not going to try to save my soul, are you?”
“Soul?” He glanced over at Kailani. ”I don’t think that’s at risk…”
She glanced at her notes briefly. ”No-one’s ever even mentioned souls…”
The boy laughed. ”Kidding, kidding. You guys remind me of door-to-door missionaries or something. Come on in, what’s up?”
They stepped inside, closing the door before Jamian continued, as had become their practice. ”Well, I’m sure you’ve noticed some of the strange things that happen around here.”
He was still laughing as he flopped into a chair. “You’d have to be blind and deaf not to. If nothing else, I’m talking to a guy with a tail.”
“Yeah, okay,” he grinned. ”Well, then you’ve probably also noticed that a lot of the upperclassmen seem very limited in what they can or will tell us. So, we’re collecting what everyone knows, so everyone can know it all.”
“Hunh, seriously? A Welcome to Addergoole, it’s all f… fouled up manual? That’s a good idea. So what can I do to help?”
Kailani smiled at his enthusiasm, and Jamian had to agree. Maybe they would get some more help.
“What do you know about the Laws?” Kailani asked. ”Belonging, Sanctity?”
“Laws, hunh?” He looked thoughtful. ”I think I’ve heard Wren mention that a few times. Sanctity’s the thing with the doors, right?”
“That’s right; the reason you need an invitation. And Belonging… has Wren mentioned that at all? Maybe even asked if you’d be hers, or something like that?”
“Oh, that thing.” He nodded. ”Yeah, we’ve talked about it a lot.” He shook his head. ”Definitely not for me yet, but if she keeps asking, maybe I’ll give in. It seems to mean a lot to her.”
“Do you understand how it works? She’s actually told you?” That was kind of refreshing, if it was true.
“Yeah, well.” He hesitated for a second, then plowed forward. ”The first couple weeks, Mark was doing these self-defense classes, right? And he asked for a volunteer. I figured what the hell. I let him Own me. He handed me a knife and told me to stab myself in the leg… and I did.”
“It was a trick knife,” he added quickly as Jamian felt his mouth drop open. ”I wasn’t hurt. But it sent a message, and then he released me.”
Oh, god. He had known, kind of, in the back of his head, that something like that was possible, but to see it demonstrated, feel it… what kind of shock must that have given him? Kailani was just nodding grimly; had it been like that for her, with whatever Agatha had done to her?
He didn’t want to think about that one too hard. The best thing he could do for her would be to help her protect everyone else.
“Wow. Um. So yeah, you get it. Do you have any more specialized information on it you can share?”
“Maybe?” he shrugged. ”Wren was Kept last year, and she talks a lot about it. The giving up of responsibility, that sort of thing?”
“That part’s not so bad, yeah. Who Kept her? They must have been at least halfway decent.”
He looked surprised. ”Phelen. Isn’t he in your crew?”
“Oh, yeah.” Jamian grinned. “Halfway decent.” Although this did actually up his estimation of Phelen a bit, if his Kept turned out like this, compared to some of what he’d heard about.
Elfred grinned back at that one. ”Yeah. That’s my feeling on it, too. She seems to think he was pretty good, but her examples of ‘bad’ are, well, pretty bad.”
“She gave examples? Would you mind sharing?”
He shook his head. “Bad stuff, man. Like this one guy was pimping his girlfriend out to other upperclassmen, and another one kept not letting his Kept eat.”
Jamian shuddered a bit, and Kai looked queasy. He’d thought he’d seen bad things… but then again, who knew how much worse things were behind closed doors, even now?
“Yeah, compared to that, Phelen was a saint. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t say stuff about him sometimes that makes me want to hit him, of course.”
“Yeah?,” Jamian frowned. “What kind of stuff?”
“Like, she has fond memories of sitting curled up at his feet at parties like some sort of pet. And she seems to think it’s perfectly fine that he controlled everything in her life. I mean, everything. I couldn’t do it.”
“At least the memories are still fond,” Jamian said, biting his lip a little and glancing back at Kai. Was that how it was, even with the people who seemed to be doing okay? He wondered what he and Ty looked like, from the outside.
Kai looked like she was wondering the same thing.
“Yeah,” Elfred sighed. ”It’s why I might give it a go. She wants it, after all, and she’s willing to put a time limit on it.”
“A time limit? Can you do that?”
“I think so? Wren seemed to think you could. I mean, I guess she could have been trapping me, but it would seem sort of silly. Who’d want a Keeper who didn’t want them?”
Jamian and Kai exchanged a significant glance. “I think part of the point is that sometimes you don’t know what you’re in for,” Jamian said slowly. “The Kept’s feelings… aren’t always taken into account.”
He grinned. ”Yeah, I know. But I mean, she could trap me from her end, too, couldn’t she? Get Kept and then not let me release her?”
“Oh!” Kai nodded in understanding. ”Yes, yes she could!”
“Wait, you mean she wants you… oh. Well, that’s a little different then. It doesn’t usually go that way.” He looked at Kai as he said the last, though. How was that working out for her?
“Find out if the time limit thing works,” she said firmly, “and make sure you know what you’re getting into.”
Elfred looked a little taken aback. ”Well, yeah, but… oh! You’re the other Fifth who Owns an upperclassmen, aren’t you?”
“One of them,” she agreed.
“Oh, yeah, we can ask Mark about that too. Actually, if he’s been telling other people about things, we might want to talk to him next.”
“Mark, you, Shahin…” Elfred grinned. ”Sounds like a Fifthie rebellion to me.”
“Rebellion? No, no, that’s not what we’re trying to do here.” Was it?
“No?” He shook his head. ”Then what are you trying for?”
“To help people know what’s actually going on. Give them a little bit of protection from some of the worst of it.”
“Hunh. Well, some of the upperclassmen would probably think that was rebellion.”
“And what do you think of it?”
“I think it’s a pretty cool idea. What can I do?”
That was a good question. They still weren’t entirely sure what they were doing themselves; at least, Jamian wasn’t. He turned to Kailani for an answer.
She looked thoughtful, but only for a second. ”We need to know everyone who’s in a bad situation, and we need to figure out everything we can about the bad Keepers.” It was a tall order, and Jamian turned his attention back to Elfred to see what the boy made of it.
He looked a little taken aback, and then nodded. ”Right. Recon. Wren’s friends might know something; I can probably get them talking.”
“That’d be great, if you can. We’d really appreciate some help. And we’ll let you know everything we find out.”
They were about to leave when Kai turned back to Elfred with a faint smile. ”Oh,” she offered; “if you do end up Owning an upperclassmen, you can order them around the geasa that keep them from telling you things.”
“You can?,” Jamian blinked at her. “Wait, why are we even doing this then?”
She looked a little taken aback. ”It’s… not exactly easy. It’s painful for the Kept,” she added defensively. ”And,” now she sounded angry, “he keeps changing the subject!”
“Painful? Okay then, yeah. And I can see why he wants a change, if you’re hurting him.”
“Oh… oh yeah,” she answered, in a tiny voice.