May 19, 2016 by Lyn
I know in all we’ve said
I finally know how it began
It’s nothing that I can even explain
“…Well fuck you too.” Emrys spun on his heel
Shahin was glad she had hold of his hand; it was probably all that kept him from taking off. “Ayla,” she pled softly. Why was she being so unreasonable? Emrys’ crew had understood. She held tightly to Emrys’ hand and hoped he didn’t drag her down the hall.
“Well, what do you expect me to believe when you vanish for days and no-one knows where you are, and you’ve been doing this stupid collar ownership game?”
Emrys stopped, at least, though he turned a baleful glare on Ayla as they talked.
Shahin sighed, and took advantage of the invitation to step into Ayla’s room. “Emrys, please?” she asked softly.
Emrys stepped in with her, but his frayed temper was clearly on edge. “Game? You want to see a game? Tell Shahin you belong to her, if you dare.”
“What is with you?” Ayla snapped. “You steal my friend away for weeks at a time, and now you’re mad at me about it?”
“With me? Do you have any idea where we were the past few days?” His voice was becoming painfully loud in Shahin’s ears as he stepped forward, jabbing a finger at Ayla. “Do you care, you little bitch? You’d rather blame me than find out what happened to us or be glad we’re back. Aggie treated us better than you.”
Her eardrums were going to snap if this got any louder, and, while she had to admit that Emrys had a very good point, Ayla was her best friend.
“Emrys,” she began, but Ayla plowed over her.
“I do care where you’ve been! You two vanished without a word and the teachers didn’t even seem to notice, and no-one would tell me anything…” Shahin wondered if Ayla even knew she was crying.
“Guys…” She forced her voice louder. “Ayla. Emrys. Please.”
Ayla turned her rage on her, which was almost a relief. She knew she wouldn’t set her on fire. “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you at least leave a note or something? I was worried sick. Vi’s so angry…”
“They really didn’t tell you?” That, more than anything, made her angry. What good was the administration? She used the anger to get her through the next sentence. “We were kidnapped and tortured and, and… and they couldn’t even bother to tell our friends what was going on?”
“Kidnapped and… oh, god. Oh, god, Shahin.” She reached for Shahin’s shoulders, and stopped herself halfway. “Oh, god.” Her face twisted from horror to mortified embarrassment. “Emrys, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he sighed, making a visible effort to keep his cool.
“No, I know better. You rescued Vi.” She shook her head. “Kidnapped? Sit down, why aren’t you still in the Doctor’s office, are you guys okay?” The words were tumbling out of her.
“I… we’ll be okay,” Shahin answered quietly, although her headache was growing. “It’s just going to be rough for a few weeks.”
“A very rough couple weeks,” Emrys echoed. “Caitrin released us, though.”
“Oh…” She shook her head. “No-one told us anything. They really don’t like telling us anything at all, do they?”
“It’s beginning to seem that way,” Shahin frowned. She glanced at Emrys, though: “Tolly knew?”
“Yeah… yeah, he did. Probably from Luke, I’d guess.”
“That makes sense. I just wish someone had told my friends.”
“Jamian and Kailani were around earlier, talking about something similar. About how no-one tells anyone anything around here,” Ayla offered. “They said the collars thing wasn’t a game. I guess I should have listened.”
“They were?” Emrys looked troubled. “What’re they up to?”
Ayla hesitated. “I’m not sure I should tell you.” She held up a hand apologetically. “I’m not trying to be a pain, it’s just that it was sort of a Fifth-Cohort thing.”
“Fifth Cohorts keeping secrets from the rest of us?” Emrys laughed. “I’m not sure if we should be offended or proud of you.”
“Turnabout and all that,” Shahin said softly. “I’ll have to find them to talk later. I wonder how she’s doing.” Not just her – that mess had ended up involving a lot of people. “I wonder how Taro is doing. Or Joff’s hair.”
“I’m sure they’re fine. It’s only a little fire.”
“A little…” Ayla looked between the two of them. “What happened?“
Shahin took a breath. “Agatha got upset at Kailani for ‘messing with her Kept,’ so we went over there to talk to her – well, her crew did, and, as I was there, so did I. And she goaded Taro into attacking, but dodged better than I do, apparently. The next moments are a bit blurry…”
“There was a fight, and Kailani and her crew lost,” Emrys supplied. Shahin couldn’t help but smile a little bit.
“He’s skipping the part where he lit Taro on fire. We got sent to the infirmary, scolded, used as food for the succu..” she trailed off softly.
“Shh,” Emrys said quietly, stepping up close beside her again. “It’s okay.”
She let him hold her, relaxing into the comfort. “The thing that kidnapped us,” she said, very softly, because Ayla deserved to know, “was like the succubi here, only a lot more so. It wanted strong emotions. And I – I don’t do strong emotion.” She leaned on Emrys a little more for support. She wondered how much Ayla knew; from the blank expression, not much.
“The succubi here – Ivette, Joff, Jamian – can somehow eat emotion. They drain a little energy. But what happened to Vi and a lot of other people in the halls, that was someone draining a lot of energy. And the pain pills they give to help you with the Change… the part where you get more inhuman… I guess they make it tastier?” There was so much she just hadn’t been paying attention to!
“Better in some way,” Emrys confirmed. “Dysmas notices it too, to a lesser extent. It’s generally considered a harmless side effect, as long as you’re careful.”
“Careful.” Ayla blinked, and Shahin could see the dawning horror on her face, but it was quickly sidetracked by another realization. “The pain pills… for the ‘Change…’ Sheen?”
… freaks, barely human – some of them clearly less than human… It had been just a dream, she’d hoped, but the expression on Ayla’s face made her less certain. She pulled her gloves off slowly, showing Ayla the lines of cold blue runes circling her wrists.
“Oh… that’s not bad,” Ayla said softly. “Did it hurt?”
Like doom. Like her bones cracking. But so much less than just moving now, so much less than watching the monster hurt Emrys. “A little. I was asleep for most of it.”
“But we got the pills from Caitrin for her, to keep it under control,” Emrys noted.
The pills. She really, really wanted a pill. She was shuddering before she realized she was, twitching softly. “Oh, god,” she muttered. She couldn’t break down here, in front of Ayla.
“Sheen?” Ayla was next to her before she could say anything, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. “Shahin, it’s okay, I’m here. We’re here,” she amended.
She flinched, expecting it to hurt, but instead was bathed in cool peace and calm and blessed silence. Then Ayla pulled back, and the static and pins-and-needles came back.
“Oh,” she said softly. “Yeah. I know you’ll be here. You’re a good friend, Ay.” She squeezed Emrys’ hand. “I’ll be fine, with you guys here to help me.”
“We won’t leave you,” he said, squeezing back.
She smiled mischievously at him. “I suppose, if it took being kidnapped and tortured to get a ‘we’ including you and Ayla together, it was worth it.”
“Well, she could’ve made that easier,” he grinned.
“You weren’t exactly being warm and fuzzy yourself,” Ayla retorted. “Except when you were on fire, I mean.”
“Hey, if you want to come see me be warm…”
“You’re not my type, thanks.” But they were smiling. Shahin found that she could relax a little bit. If she could get along with his friends, if he could get along with hers, maybe they’d be able to get through all right.
“So what’s our next stop, Sheen?”
They did have to leave eventually, didn’t they? “We should stop by Mabina-and-Cassidy’s suite and talk to them,” she admitted. “Since we were right outside their door when…”
“Yeah, we really should,” he agreed. “Okay, then. Oh, speaking of which, I kind of cashed in Taro’s chit.”
“Cashed in…” For a moment, she thought he was making up a creative euphemism for whoops, while you were unconscious, I killed him, but he didn’t really look smug or abashed enough for that. “Oh, his theoretical debt to us for getting char-broiled? When did you find time for that?”
“When we were fighting that monster. Fat lot of good it did, but we tried.”
She hugged him fiercely, ignoring the pain it caused, and murmured “thank you” into his hair.
“You’re welcome,” he whispered back.