May 24, 2016 by Lyn
Their children’s hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry
The more they talked about abused Kept, the more Kai found herself looking around at her fellow students, searching for signs of abuse. Bowen was in her first-period Spanish class, but she didn’t really need to look to know he was abused, and, besides, Agatha shared that class with them, too. She sat behind them and watched their behavior together, trying to figure out some basis to gauge “wrongness” in interpersonal relations.
‘Lisha, Vlad’s Kept, was in Spanish with her as well. Kai wasn’t sure the girl didn’t hate her, but she’d been managing a few more smiles and a few less scowls lately. It was unlikely she was being abused, considering how nice Vlad was in general, but Kai wondered at her still being Kept. It seemed, from what she was hearing, that most people released their Kept after a year; ‘Lisha and Vlad were working on their second year together.
‘Lisha was also in American History with her second period, and had taken to sitting with her and Conrad. Kai didn’t mind, as it gave her a bit of a buffer from Anatoliy, who loomed depressingly at her like some mopey bull who hadn’t meant to wreck the china shop. Finnegan, Renata, and Shera, all collared, also shared that class, which gave Kai plenty to study.
Finnegan’s interactions with Allyse seemed careful, but not jittery or jerky; he spoke in class without looking for permission and even contradicted his Owner on occasion. Shera looked like she was cold much of the time, huddling in a sweater that she handed back to Renata before class ended. The collar around her neck looked more like a dog collar than the thing Shahin had worn, and seemed as if it chafed her. Her blonde friend, on the other hand, wore a delicate gold choker, and looked cheerful, healthy, with no signs of distress.
In English Lit, Caity, ‘Lisha, Finnegan, and Renata were in stark contrast to Kendra, who hid in the back of the room, trying not to be seen or called upon. And in Chem…
In Chem, there was Bowen, sitting next to Dysmas, slumped in his seat as if exhausted. But there was Conrad, and Mea, and Rozen, and Kai was beginning to get angry at the bruises on Bowen’s arm and the collar around Shera’s neck. “So,” she asked Rozen, “how do you think a Keeper is supposed to treat their Kept?”
“You’re asking me?” he grunted with evident surprise, but then smiled. “However they want, of course. Isn’t that rather the point?”
“You seem to know more about this place than anyone else, so yes, I’m asking you.” She frowned a little bit. “So, really… however they feel like?”
“Well, it depends on the circumstances of the Keeping I suppose,” he temporized. “It’s pretty common out in the world, so I hear, to put riders on it, or at least have a stated purpose to it.”
“That seems like it would be clever, if one was going to get oneself into a Keeping.” She didn’t look over at Conrad; she didn’t want him to think she was pointing fingers. “But here, with the sort of ambush-Keepings that seem popular, there’s no chance for that, is there?”
“There is at least an implied purpose, in most cases,” he smirked. She thought about his arm around her throat, and wondered if he was still thinking of Keeping her. What would it be like, Kept by someone like him? She thought for a moment about Anatoliy, gentle and careful and still so insistent, no matter how much she cried. She couldn’t imagine Rozen would be that gentle, or that careful.
She shuddered a little, scooting back a tiny bit in her chair. “Babies,” she murmured.
“That’s right.” Rozen nodded, licking his lips, and she fought down the urge to shudder again, seeing the same image in his eyes. “So, there’s at least the understanding, in many cases, that there are certain expectations there. But beyond that, a Keeper should protect their Kept from outside harm, see that they’re well-maintained, and all that. Same as you would any other possession you value.”
She thought about Jamian’s trading-cards analogy, and wondered how common the “possession” mentality really was. Mabina-and-Cassidy didn’t seem to hold by it, nor their crew, but Agatha’s crew did; she couldn’t tell with Emrys either way. “Well-maintained.” She could work with that one. “Fed, watered,” if she thought about it like horses, she could handle this, “groomed, exercised?”
Rozen chuckled. “You could put it that way, yeah. Or, think of it more as a pet. You take good care of it, show affection when it’s warranted, punish it when it’s naughty.”
She nodded slowly. “That’s not all that different from any superior-to-inferior type of position…”
“That’s the gist of it,” he agreed. “Why?”
She knew she was a lousy liar, so she settled for telling the truth. “I’m trying to figure out how it’s supposed to work.” She glanced back momentarily at Conrad, wondering how much this was upsetting him.
“Trying to call the shots, is he?” Rozen said understandingly. “Show him who’s boss a couple times, he’ll get the message pretty quick.”
“How?” she asked, not meaning to sound as exasperated as she did.
“Depends on how bad it is.” Rozen shrugged. “I’d start by withholding privileges. If that doesn’t do it, you can step it up a little.”
Withholding privileges didn’t even sound unreasonable. Except that part where it automatically assumes you’re superior to Conrad.. “Thank you for the advice,” she said politely. She wasn’t having those problems with Conrad now, but it was good to know what was considered acceptable.
“Welcome. Y’know, if you want to chat, you can stop by sometime.”
She wished again she had Jamian’s ability to read people, but the thought was a bit intriguing. “I might. Thanks.” She settled back into her chair and glanced again at Conrad.
He finally glanced back at her, with a thoughtful expression, and just possibly a bit of a frown. She winced; she’d been worried he’d take that conversation wrong, but she couldn’t very well just say “no, I just want to know how other people think it should go,” right in the middle of the class, not when he’d been so insistent she keep her project a secret. She chewed on her lip for a moment, and then, hoping he wouldn’t turn away, leaned in and kissed him.
He didn’t, but neither was he as warm as he sometimes was. She sighed, knowing she’d mucked things up again, and squeezed his hand, hoping she could straighten things out later.
Before she had a good chance at later, though, she had to get through PE. When she got to the locker room, she found Jaya and Shahin talking quietly by her locker. Shahin hadn’t changed yet, although Jaya was in the process of doing so.
“Hey,” Jaya smiled, straightening up as she saw her.
“Hi,” she smiled back. At least she hadn’t messed anything up with the Daeva. Yet. Today.
She opened her locker and started changing. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Me, too,” Shahin said, startling her. The pale girl was staring at her gym clothes as she talked, as if not really certain what to do with them.
Kailani made a quietly inquisitive noise, hoping the other girl would elucidate. She twitched, instead, such a small gesture Kai was sure no-one else would have noticed it, and then chuckled. “Ah, yes, thinking. Are there any Kept in your cy’rees?”
“I don’t have a cy’ree,” Kai admitted. “I’m cy’Regine, so it’s just me.” Another brilliant move on my part.
“They grouped up all the people like that for the contest,” Jaya added helpfully.
Kai nodded. “I think some of ‘Team Misfit,’” she winced, “are Kept. Nydia and Renata.”
Shahin slowly pulled her shirt off, as if every movement hurt. Kai hissed and looked away: two long ragged scars on the girl’s chest gleamed a stony bright sapphire-blue. Ignoring Kai’s hiss, Shahin answered. “I’ve got Callista and Kendra in my cy’ree. Cy’Drake has Finnegan and Niki. Jaya?”
“Um.” Jaya tore her eyes from Shahin’s chest with obvious difficulty. “Um. Ivette and Joff. And me.”
Shahin looked at Jaya for a moment, holding her shirt in her hands. “Ivette and Joff seem happy enough,” she murmured. Then, as if realizing what they were looking at, she glanced down at the scars, and nodded slowly. “I’ve been trying to ignore those.” She tugged her t-shirt on with a subvocal keen.
Kai didn’t know what to do, so she looked at Jaya. “I don’t really know either of them.”
“They’re… um… nice. Ivette and Joff I mean,” she added hurriedly. “And I don’t think they’re in any trouble, no.”
Shahin chuckled. “Nice. ‘Friendly,’ too,” she smirked. “We’ve met. My… Emrys lit Joff’s hair on fire.”
Kai blinked at Shahin. “Again?!?”
“Well, he does that,” she said, unconcerned. “Anyway, I agree, they don’t seem to be badly Kept.”
“Just scorched,” Kai murmured, a little horrified.