June 21, 2016 by Lyn
It’s not all that glitter is gold, half the story has never been told
And now you see the light, you stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights
She missed Emrys’ certainty. Playing off of him, there was never any room for wavering or doubt; with him at her back, she knew where she was going. Now, away from him, Shahin had too much time to second guess all of her decisions, even her assumptions.
She sat in the back of the bus between Carter and Kendra, studying, several rows ahead, Callista and Eris, Kailani and Nydia. She’d thought she’d know what it was like to be Kept. She’d thought she’d known what being a social outcast was like. She was beginning to think she knew nothing at all.
“Why so glum?” Carter asked, turning towards her. “I mean, I know it’s kind of your image, but you haven’t smiled since we left this morning.”
She smiled faintly at his crack about her image. “I’m just questioning my preconceptions,” she answered quietly.
“Ah,” he nodded, sobering a little. “Yeah, Addergoole does that to you. Keeps doing it, too, even once you think it’s done.”
She ran her fingers inside her gloves. “It can’t ever, really, be done, can it?”
“It can,” he said slowly. “There are people that don’t do that anymore. Rozen. Ardell. Cay.”
She shivered. Cay. Acacia. “So you fight it, or you become a monster.”
“Well, I’d say you become part of the place. It doesn’t have to be the same thing.”
She sighed, thinking about Xaviera. “Maybe I already have.”
“All the more reason not to equate that with something monstrous. The system is flawed, maybe fatally so, but it’s not inherently evil. Buying into it doesn’t make you evil, either. It’s just another way to survive.”
Shahin frowned a bit, and glanced over at Kendra before looking back to Carter. “And what about Keeping, then?”
“If you’re going to do it, do it well,” he advised. “Even out here, there are abusive husbands and wives; that doesn’t mean there’s a problem with marriage. It’s certainly not the same thing, but the comparison holds. Keeping is just a lot more power; with great power comes great responsibility, right?” he grinned. She looked blankly at his amused expression and he shook his head. “Nerd joke, nevermind. The basic tenet’s still true though.”
She breathed out slowly again. “Xaviera said something, before I left. That we can’t tell from the outside if a situation is bad or not.” She shifted her body to invite Kendra into the conversation; the mousey girl was clearly paying attention.
“That’s almost certainly true,” Carter nodded, before noting Shahin’s interest and turning to see if Kendra had anything to contribute.
The girl blushed a bit and looked down at her toes. “I guess?” she murmured. “I mean…” she chewed on her lip. “It’s hard to tell, even inside the situation, isn’t it?”
“If it’s hard to tell from inside the situation, it’s not good,” Carter warned gently.
She licked her lips, seeming to be struggling with something. “Does that matter? I mean, Callie…”
“Everyone matters,” Carter said firmly. “I have no idea how hard it’ll be to help Callista once Ib leaves; or how much we even can. We don’t want anyone else to end up as far gone as she is.”
Shahin nodded her agreement. “There are ways to help,” she murmured quietly. “Not easy, but they exist. And Carter’s right.”
Kendra nodded faintly. “But the Law… Ofir said…”
Perhaps a softer hand than Carter’s well-intentioned but excessively pragmatic advice was called for.
“What did he say?” Shahin coaxed.
“That the Law, the Law,” she took a deep breath, “wouldn’t let anyone interfere. That our business was our business, his business, really. And nobody else’s.”
Shahin winced as Carter responded.
“That’s sort of true, but only up to a point. It’s one way of looking at things – but not the only way.”
“Crew, for one,” Shahin put in gently. “What someone does is their crew’s business.” She licked her lips, thinking about Ayla and Yngvi.
“She doesn’t seem to care,” Kendra murmured.
“And your Mentor, of course,” Carter added. “His, too, really. They should know everything that happens. If he starts trying to limit who you can talk to about things, tell whoever you can as much as you can.”
“Starts?” she asked softly.
Shahin frowned, trying to hide a wince. “Well, can you talk to us?”
“I…” She looked worried, and didn’t answer.
“Don’t try to push against it,” Carter said. “But you can come up to that line, wherever it is. We’ll help you if we can.”
“But how can you help?” she squeaked softly. “The Law…”
“Has its limits, too. And there aren’t too many people so unreasonable that they can’t be bargained with.”
Shahin nodded in agreement with Carter’s statement. Deals could be made. Challenges could happen. Kendra looked back and forth between them, rubbing her arms as if cold.
“He gets so angry,” she whispered.
Carter bit his lip. “That’s not good. Is it random, or is it possible to keep him happy?”
Shahin eyed him, wondering at the advice they were giving the girl. But Kendra was shaking her head. “Sometimes, he’s fine. But sometimes the weirdest stuff sets him off. Sometimes he…” She paused. “Did Cay ever call you the wrong name?”
“No,” he blinked. “And Ofir’s not had a Kept before…” Carter shrugged. “Shahin? What do you think of that?”
Shahin looked at the pallor of Kendra’s skin. “Was he Kept?” she guessed. She thought Emrys had said something about that. And Xaviera had gotten their names wrong, calling them by her former Keepers’ names.
“Yes, by Agatha,” Carter confirmed. Kendra, biting her lip, nodded.
“That would do it,” Shahin posited.
“Seems odd that he’d make that mistake from the reversed position, though,” Carter noted. “Does it seem like maybe he gets angry when he thinks of her? Something reminds him of her, maybe?”
Kendra reached up and touched her ear hesitantly. Shahin frowned, uncertain.
“You don’t have to tell us,” Carter said. “But if you can, if you’d like to talk to someone, we’re here.”
“Is Agatha smart?” she asked instead.
“She’s highly intelligent; I’m not quite sure that’s what you’re asking, though.”
But she was nodding. Shahin tried to piece together what she wasn’t saying. “You’re pretty bright, right, Kendra?” The mouse-girl shook her head no, pale and frantic. “Ah.”
“Mm.” Carter nodded slowly. “I see.”
Shahin nodded as well, and patted Kendra’s shoulder. “We’ll work it out,” she reassured her. The girl looked as if she wanted to believe her, at least. That was something, right?
“Is there anything else?” Carter asked.
All the work their reassurance was doing vanished in an instant, Kendra’s nose wiggling nervously. “Uh. I can’t say. Do you think Agatha hit him?”
Clever. Shahin smiled reassuringly while waiting for Carter’s answer.
“Possibly,” he said slowly. “She’s not particularly fearsome physically, so long as she minds her nails, but she might also consider it justified for just such reason.”
“He’s a lot stronger than her, probably.” She rubbed her ribs ruefully. “I bet she pinches.”
“Probably.” Carter looked increasingly uncomfortable as he turned to Shahin for… what, exactly? Help? Insight? He had years of experience with this, while she had, well, an intense couple of months, it was true.
She took a long breath, getting her thoughts in order. “What he’s doing isn’t okay, Kendra, no matter what he told you, and it isn’t your fault.” She had to be careful what she said; there was no reason to think it wouldn’t get back to Ofir. “If I recall correctly, one of the cy’Luca have already had a conversation with Ofir about manhandling girls. And, while someone should have done something about a lot of situations a long time ago-” she looked pointedly at Callista’s back “-that was then, and this is now.” There, that was reassuring, threatening, and cryptic all at once.
Kendra just nodded slowly, but Carter sat back with a vaguely satisfied expression. Despite his reticence to take charge, he was up to something, that much was clear.
Well, he’d been in the cy’ree and the school a lot longer than she had. Shahin turned back to Kendra, intent on changing the subject. “So, I need your help,” she murmured, in a conspiratorial tone, one eye still on Carter.
He seemed content to let them talk now.
“Yes?” Kendra quavered.
“Somehow,” she mock-huffed, playing it up enough that Kendra would know it was for fun, “even with girls outnumbering boys by more than three to one on this trip, we have hit not a single shoe store nor yarn store. Not one.”
Kendra blinked at her. “Yeah?” She sounded as if she was relaxing, though. Some things were nearly universal.
“Yeah. So. I figure, if you and I and Renata and Nydia get together, we can probably make a big enough stink to have a little shopping expedition. We’re not the loudest group, but I think we could manage a decent foot-stomp.”
The girl looked a little more curious, a little less nervous. “Yeah?” That’s it, let her get the idea that she can be heard. “You think we could?”
“I think we could get their attention. What do you think, Carter?”
“I think you can do whatever you put your minds to, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”