July 5, 2016 by Lyn
Here but for the grace of God go you
You’ll be merry
I’ll be merry
Though merry ain’t in my vocabulary
“I don’t understand what you want me to do here, M… Shahin.” Xaviera’s frustrated complaint as they entered the Store was muted, but it was still a complaint.
Shahin suppressed a sigh and looked over her Kept thoughtfully. “When you were a kid, before you came to Addergoole, didn’t you buy presents for your friends and family?”
“I didn’t have family besides Ayers. He’d hand me gifts to give to friends, but it’d be kind of silly for him to buy a gift for himself, really.”
“So you’ve never bought gifts for people.” No wonder the girl had broken so easily, if that was any indication of her home life. “Well, it’s not a bad time to start.”
“Sure. Who would you like me to buy gifts for?”
Shahin blinked, and looked at the girl twice to be certain she was serious. Those wide blue eyes seemed to hide no dissembling, though. “Well,” she tried, “who do you like spending time with?”
“Lately I only spend much time with you and Emrys, really.”
“Ah.” She tucked a curl of the girl’s hair behind her ear. “Well, if you were spending time with other people, who would you want to spend time with?”
“The old crew, mostly. Ardell. I could get him a gift, I suppose.”
“Ardell’s crew?” She should really get Emrys’ crew gifts while she was here. “Delaney, Aviv, and Uberto, then?”
“Yeah,” Xaviera nodded. “They’re the people I know best.”
“That makes sense.” She did her best to sound encouraging. “What do you think they’d like, for gifts?” What would Aggie want? What would… “Dysmas was Kept by Delaney, right?” she added.
“Well, I know what Ardell likes very well,” Xaviera said, licking her lips briefly. “The others are trickier… oh, yes, you’re right. I know Delaney too, now that you mention her, and yes he was.”
Sex again, Shahin sighed to herself. “What sort of things do you think they’d like, then?” she coaxed.
“Delaney and Dysmas? He only wants to pay attention to his games; she hated it. Used to make him stop all the time, or not let him feed.” The girl touched her neck with two fingers self-consciously.
“Well, that’s one way to make your boyfriend pay attention to you.” She didn’t want to think too hard about Dysmas and feeding, or what Ardell and Delaney had done to their Kept. “They do like their games…” She could probably do something with that. “And Ardell?”
“Ardell… well, really that would be more of a present from you than from me. Not that anything I give isn’t from you, really.”
This time, she couldn’t help the frown. “Do you want to have sex with him again, Xaviera?” Emrys wouldn’t like that one at all…
“I…” She floundered, for a moment, watching Shahin carefully. “I… don’t know…?”
Damn it. “For a moment, don’t think about what you think I want you to answer,” she ordered as gently as she could. “Just answer me honestly, from your heart.” Or somewhere around there.
“I always liked it. He was good to me… like Emrys is.” She clapped her hands over her mouth as Shahin’s order expired, eyes widening.
Shahin patted her arm. “That’s good, Xaviera,” she encouraged her. “It’s good to have your own opinions. They don’t always have to be mine.” Which was good, because the thought of having sex with Ardell turned her stomach.
“You’re not mad, then?”
“No, no, I’m not mad. Help me figure out a gift for Dysmas?”
“For Dysmas? A new game, but he’ll already have them all.”
“Mmm, that’s tricky then. What about Agatha?” There was a chance she’d know, after all.
“Agatha?” Xaviera snorted. “Why would anyone give her a gift?”
Shahin chuckled. “Okay, you have a point, I’ll admit, but she’s part of Emrys’ crew, for whatever reason.”
“I have no idea what she’d want, though. As near as I can tell she doesn’t like anything.”
“Pink,” she quipped. “She likes pink.” And her crew, who, for reasons that might as well be mind control, liked her back.
“Pink things, then. Sure. Who else?” At least the girl seemed to be getting into the spirit of it, a little.
“Well, how about Ayla? She’s in your cy’ree, too.”
“I don’t really hang out with them though, except for things like the cy’ree challenge. But she’s quiet; maybe books or something.”
“Mmm,” she agreed thoughtfully. Ayla’s shelves in her room had well-worn paperbacks. Kai could probably tell her exactly who the authors were. “And what about you, Xav?”
“Me?” She blinked, uncomprehending; this time, Shahin did sigh.
“You.” She tapped the girl’s nose. “What do you want for Christmas, little girl?”
“I don’t… Whatever you want to give me will be fine.”
“I will keep ordering you into having opinions,” she warned her.
“I do really need some new jeans,” Xaviera offered. “And shoes?”
“Shoes,” she smiled. “Okay, I can do shoes.” A thought came to her, and she eyed her Kept thoughtfully. “Do you see your babies at all?”
“Oh no,” Xaviera said quickly. “Not since I had them.” It was clear enough from her tone that she wanted to keep it that way, too.
“All right,” Shahin soothed. She didn’t want to push too much. “So, shoes for you. Book for Ayla. Pink for Agatha. Who else do we want to get something for?”
“Emrys,” was the quick reply. She should have seen that coming, but she’d been working around him, because she knew what she wanted to get him already.
“Well,” she asked slowly, “what do you want to get him?”
“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I don’t really know what he likes… well. Not what you mean, at least.”
And that, that is the problem with Keeping you. She nodded slowly. “There’s nothing wrong with wrapping you in a ribbon and a pretty pair of panties, I suppose,” she mused. “Maybe a little Santa outfit?”
“For Emrys?” Now, for that, she finally smiled. “I think he’d like that.”
“I think he would too,” she admitted, carefully not grumbling at her. Mischievously, she added, “I might, too, you know.”
“Both of us? Oh, he’d definitely like that.”
Shahin felt a very unaccustomed blush rising to her cheeks. “That, too,” she admitted, “but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“Oh,” Xaviera nodded, setting a hand lightly on Shahin’s arm. “If you want me, all you have to do is ask.”
She smiled, and took the girl’s hand in hers. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Xaviera glanced to the floor for a moment, her smile becoming more demure, before looking around again.
“You want things for the rest of your crews, then? What about Tolly?”
She nodded. “Tolly, too, and Io and Vi. Do you have an idea for the giant?” Other than Kai’s forgiveness…
“No, I don’t really know him, except as a guy who played games with Dysmas. It seems like they’re into the same kinds of things.”
“Well, let’s see if we can find something, then.” She headed deeper into the Store, not releasing Xaviera’s hand.
The girl didn’t seem to mind; if anything, she pressed closer to the physical contact. “What about your other friends?”
“Jamian and Kai, yes,” she nodded. “And maybe something for cy’Pelletier…” Bandages, perhaps.
“That’d be Carter, Eris, Nikolai, and Channing?”
“And Kendra and Callista. I can always buy them something and put it aside until next year.”
“I… suppose you could? If you wanted to get presents for Kept. Sure.” It didn’t sound like she opposed the idea, as much as that she simply hadn’t considered it at all. Somehow, Shahin wasn’t surprised.
“I want to get presents for my cy’ree,” she answered firmly. “If I have to hold on to those gifts to keep their Keepers from taking them, well, then we’ll have Christmas again in July.”
“What would you even get for someone like Callista though?”
“I’m not sure,” she confessed. “Some candy, a warm blanket, a trip to a spa?” A hug and a week of whatever she wanted?
“I don’t think we actually have a spa available. Well, people have made temporary spas with magic before, but not a permanent staffed thing.”
“We ought to.” They really ought to. “With all of the stress and all of the pregnant women around here,” myself included, “we ought to come up with a spa somehow. I bet Kailani would know how.
“Besides,” she added, surprising herself with the thought, “once the school year’s over, we could go somewhere else.”
Xaviera blinked. “We… could, yes.” It seemed as foreign a concept to her as anything else they’d discussed today.
“When this school year is over, Xav, I’m taking you on vacation somewhere,” she decided. “Something nice, for a weekend. All right?”
“All right,” she agreed. “You can take me wherever you want, I guess.”
“I hope,” Shahin answered carefully, “that when the time comes, you’ll come with me of your own free will.” They couldn’t Keep her forever, after all.