July 13, 2016 by Lyn
“Perhaps you’d like to speak first today, Shahin.” Carter’s gaze was penetrating, and, despite his gentle tone, there was a clear force behind his words. She nodded slowly. It was fair. She cringed. It was fair, she had to admit.
Of course, he probably thought it would be Xaviera that was foremost on her mind today; the girl sat beside her, clearly not quite at ease in the unfamiliar cy’ree meeting. She could talk about Xaviera in a little bit… maybe Xav should hear what their meetings could be like first.
“Guilt,” she whispered. Talking about it with Emrys had helped, but there was still a tiny needle of it inside her. “Either I’m helpless and I can’t do anything about anything, or I’m not. And if I’m not… then I should have stopped him. I shouldn’t have ever let him hurt Emrys.”
“What we are isn’t what we were,” Eris said. “What we were isn’t what we will be.”
Nikolai nodded. “She’s right. You may not have had the power then; that doesn’t make you helpless now. Even those who are helpless now, won’t always be in the future.”
She heard a small noise coming from her throat, almost a keen. “I couldn’t stop him,” she whimpered.
“Hey, hey.” Carter was sitting next to her before she drew another breath, patting her shoulder very carefully. “It’s okay. We’ve all had moments like that. It’s okay.”
It’s okay. It wasn’t, not really, but maybe it could become okay. She nodded, the sobs coming without volition, without control as she clung to Xaviera and Carter. Xaviera seemed to be at a loss for what to do, but she was willing to be clung to, and provided, in her own strange way, a warm and helpful presence.
The tears didn’t last long, but they left Shahin feeling drained and, somehow, refreshed. And mildly mortified. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t mean…”
“We’ve all done it,” Callista said softly; it was as many words as she spoke during some of these meetings. Shahin nodded, smiling cautiously at her.
“Thank you.” Slowly, she released her clinging grip on Xaviera.
“Hey, it’s all right.” Carter smiled gently at her. “Is there anything else you want to share today?” he asked, glancing to Xaviera.
She glanced at Xav, as well. “I’m… shared out,” she admitted. “Xav, anything you want to talk about?”
“Me? No, no, I’m fine,” said quickly.
“It’s all right not to be fine,” Eris murmured, from across the room. “It took me a while to figure that one out.”
“Why wouldn’t I be fine?” she asked, quickly following up to prevent a direct answer. “I like Shahin and Emrys.”
“I’ve met Ardell and Delaney,” Eris answered dryly. “And, for that matter, Meshach and Shadrach.”
“Ardell was always good to me,” came the knee-jerk reply.
Somewhere in the room, someone choked on a chip. Eris looked at Xaviera steadily. “By whose standards of good? And what does that mean your current Keepers are?”
“Standards of good?” Xaviera scoffed, dodging the question. “What does that even mean?”
“Well, say, compared to Shadrach, Meshach was a peach. But compared to Mark, both of them are nasty little monsters.”
“So unless we’d all been Kept by the same people, any such comparison is meaningless. I have no idea what Shadrach or Mark are like.”
Shahin studied her Kept, surprised and a little impressed at her ability to dodge the topic. “I think there are standards,” she offered gently.
Xaviera paused to consider this, turning her attention back to Shahin. “What do you think, then?”
Shahin exhaled loudly, trying to not look as frustrated as she felt. “I think that, by my standards, Ardell is a monster.”
“He wasn’t always as understanding as you are,” Xaviera offered.
She pursed her lips. “He did not seem to encourage independent thought.”
“That’s true. He didn’t need other peoples’ input.”
“I think,” Carter input carefully, “that a good Keeper would consider their Kept’s input important.”
“But… the Kept is there to fulfill the Keeper’s desires. The Kept shouldn’t have other desires of their own.”
“Bullshit,” Eris answered succinctly. “The Kept, including their desires, is the Keeper’s responsibility. That means taking care of them. And caring what they want.”
“But not at their own expense,” Xaviera snapped. “The Keeper’s will overrides lesser concerns.” Once again, she glanced at Shahin, looking for… something. Direction? Approval?
She didn’t want to further upset Xaviera – or Callista, or Kennie – but it was a good point and it needed to be made. “Like who they’d prefer to have sex with? Or like eating?” she asked gently.
That flustered Xaviera a bit, and she studied Shahin’s face, as if trying to read the thoughts behind those words. “Well… yes…?”
“You don’t want to choose those things for yourself?” Carter asked quietly.
“Does it matter, what I want?”
“If it doesn’t,” Eris answered grimly, “pretty soon you end up with it not mattering if you’d really prefer not to die.”
That gave her pause. “Shahin wouldn’t…”
“Because Shahin, it seems, isn’t a bad Keeper. But what if she did?”
Xaviera looked helplessly between Eris and Shahin, chewing her lip.
Shahin patted her arm comfortingly. “I wouldn’t. I promise you that. But can you honestly say Ardell might not?”
“He wouldn’t either…” Xaviera’s voice trailed off even as she spoke. “He was always nice to me… he said so…”
“He told you,” Shahin asked carefully, “that he was being nice to you?”
“Yes. Wouldn’t you say you’re nice to me, too?”
“Well… yes,” she admitted. It was a nasty catch-22, and it seemed to be reinforcing Xaviera’s habit of taking all her opinions from her Keeper. “But would you,” she asked, “if ordered to be honest and not worry about my opinions?”
“I think so?” Xaviera quavered, with a look that practically begged Shahin not to.
Shahin patted the girl’s shoulder soothingly. “And would you say, honestly, not worrying about my opinions, that Ardell was nice to you?”
“Yes? Maybe… maybe not as nice?”
She nodded, and hugged her closely, unsure what else to say.
“Why are all of you against Ardell so much?” Xaviera asked after a moment. “It seems like everyone is either his good friend, or really hates him.”
“Well,” Shahin said quietly, “he raped my friend. Which doesn’t get him off to a good start in my book.”
Xaviera frowned, looking like she was about to say something but had reconsidered it.
“What is it?” Shahin asked gently.
“I don’t want to contradict you,” was the quiet, almost fearful reply. Shahin could sense the empathy from the corner of the room where Kendra and Callista had ensconced themselves.
“You have my permission to contradict me,” she answered gently. “I won’t punish you for it.”
The reply was still soft and hesitant. “That makes no sense. So many people would be with him willingly…”
“He likes the control,” Eris answered. “Willing isn’t a challenge.”
“I was always willing,” Xaviera whispered, turning her gaze to the floor.
Shahin patted the girl’s back again, looking to her cy’ree for help. What did you say to that?
“That’s better than the alternative,” Carter said, stooping low in front of her. “And it doesn’t matter, now. You don’t have to please him anymore.”
“I always liked him,” Xaviera said quietly. “He’s my friend.”
“Those are separate things,” Eris answered dryly.
“Liking people and them being your friends?”
“That,” Eris agreed. Shahin stayed quiet, wondering where this was going.
“Don’t you like your friends?”
“Yeah. But well… there was this guy, back Out There. And he liked me, and he thought we were great buddies. But I didn’t really like him at all. Stole his favorite CD, actually.” Ah, that.
“It’s not like that. It wasn’t like that.”
“Want me to take his brain apart and find out?”
Eris, Shahin mused, could be a little frightening.
“No!” Xaviera exclaimed, finally looking up again.
Eris blinked. “You really love him, don’t you?” Her tone gentled. “Okay. Love is blind and stupid. I know that one. But that doesn’t mean you have to believe him about yourself, does it?”
“Well… maybe not? But believe what about myself?”
“That all you’re worth is what he told you you were good for.” Eris’ tired voice sounded like she knew what she was talking about. It made Shahin wince, and glance sidelong at Callista and Kendra, huddled in the corner.
“That’s not… I don’t…” Despite the girl’s protests, Shahin could sense the moment she was defeated. “But… what should I do?”
“Figure out what you want to do,” Eris advised. “It’s as good a first step as any.” Thank you, Eris, Shahin blessed the other girl silently.
Xaviera turned once more to Shahin. “So what should I want to do?”
No one ever said it was going to be easy.