July 15, 2016 by Lyn
There was no use trying not to be nervous. The last time she’d gone up against Agatha, she’d gotten herself raped and her crew beaten up. She hadn’t brought her crew along this time, had only brought Conrad along because he’d insisted. She had the Thornes here, though; if things went badly, they’d have her back, and they were more likely to be able to take Agatha than Mabina and Cassidy were.
Of course, Anatoliy was on her side too, now. At her side, in fact, although he didn’t look happy about walking away from his friends, and Agatha was clearly irate. She wasn’t here to make friends, though – probably a good thing, since there were Shahin and Emrys, at Agatha’s side. On her side? Shahin was smiling, but that could mean anything.
“Well?” Agatha stepped forward, hands on her hips. “Speak your piece, you two-bit tramp.”
The accusation was so far off that it was absurd. Kai couldn’t hide the smile, but she did manage not to laugh. She coughed instead, clearing her throat. “You want Tolly to graduate with you,” she said simply. She’d rehearsed this in front of a mirror.
“Tolly will graduate with me. Over your dead body if necessary.”
The cold-blooded way Agatha delivered the threat sent a shiver down Kai’s spine, but Acacia’s laconic smile and shake of her head bolstered her courage. It wouldn’t be that easy for Agatha, this time.
“I don’t think you want to risk being expelled. And I don’t think you want to risk attacking your friend.” Facts. Stick with facts. “You want him to graduate with you.”
“And clearly you want something,” Agatha replied, circling her hand in a move-along gesture. “Some of us have better uses of our time than to stand around posturing at each other all day. Out with it, bitch.”
Bitch she could live with. “I thought you were my cousin,” she commented idly. “It should be fairly obvious by now.” And because she’d long since learned that “obvious” to her wasn’t to other people, she added, “I want Bowen.”
“Really?” Agatha tsked, shaking her head. “He’s not that useful, to be perfectly honest with you, cousin. I have to constantly ride herd on the stupid boy to accomplish the most mundane tasks.”
She probably wasn’t aware, Kai reflected, that the boy in question had quietly slipped in, joining the back of their group.
“I don’t really think I’d be risking this if I didn’t ‘really’ want him, do you?” she asked. “Yes. I want Bowen.” There was no use, she was fairly certain, in explaining why.
Agatha was considering it, Kai could tell; that calculating look swept over the assembled parties, and she took a moment to reply.
“And in exchange, you propose to offer what, exactly?”
She’d run this wording past Conrad at least a dozen times; when pushed, he was a lot smarter than he thought he was.
“In exchange, I’ll let Anatoliy graduate on time and not interfere in his business, crew or personal, for the rest of this school year.”
She didn’t laugh. Kai had been afraid that Agatha would laugh in her face, that she’d grossly miscalculated somehow and the whole scheme would be for naught. Instead, the woman slowly nodded, folding her arms. “That may actually be workable. Make your promise, then.”
She took a deep breath. “I promise that, if you release Bowen to me, I will not keep Anatoliy from graduating, nor will I interfere in his business with his crew for this rest of this school year.”
“Fine then,” Agatha replied, clipping off her words as she looked about. “Now, where is the worthless… ah, there. Bowen, step forth.”
The boy advanced cautiously, clearly not entirely certain what he’d been dragged into.
“You Belong to Kailani now.”
“Yes, you do. Go and Belong to her.”
“I guess I do,” he said in befuddlement, and Kai could feel the universe holding its breath, a crystalline silence waiting for her to break it.
“You do,” she affirmed, feeling the now-familiar twist in her mind.
“And good riddance,” Agatha sighed. “I’ve got what I needed from him anyway; and gods know he wasn’t any good at it.”
“Come here, Bowen.” Had it really been that easy? She kept waiting for the kick in the kidney. “You have my word. I will not keep Tolly from graduating.”
“And you have mine; I won’t forget this insolence,” Agatha replied ominously, before spinning on her heel to depart. Dysmas left with her; Shahin lingered , and Emrys looked between them for a moment before whispering something to his fiancée and running off after his friend.
When Agatha was well out of earshot, she murmured “Good for you, Kai.”
“Thanks?” she answered, her nerves finally hitting her. Agatha wasn’t going to be happy. And… she looked around, and back at Shahin. “Thanks,” she repeated. “I was worried…”
“I don’t blame you. But you’re my friend,” she said firmly. “And Emrys…” She gave Kai a brief, tight, stomach-bumping hug. “I should go. Good luck.”
“Really.” She patted Kai’s shoulder gently. “Way to go.” With that, she exited, leaving Kai alone with the Thornes, Conrad, Bowen… and Tolly.
The Thornes seemed to be stretching and preparing to depart, as well. That would leave her, and her three Kept. Three Kept.
“Thanks,” she said quietly to Acacia. “I wasn’t sure how badly that would go.” Three Kept.
“You’re welcome, Girl Scout. Catch you later.” With that, they all but vanished into the greenery, leaving her to look at the three boys. Men. Kept. What was she going to do now?
She looked at Conrad first. What was he thinking, feeling? How was he handling all this?
As if reading her thoughts, he glanced from the others to her, and spread his hands. “What now?”
“That,” she sighed, “is a very good question.” She looked over at Bowen. She didn’t understand much about psychology, but she imagined he had to be pretty messed up. “I’m going to release you,” she told him, “and I want you to go talk to Dr. Mendosa and Dr. Caitrin. I want your promise you’ll do that, as soon as I release you.”
“I promise I’ll do that,” he echoed, seeming more than a bit lost by everything that had happened.
She hugged him, carefully. “You know how promises work, right?” she asked. He was nothing but skin and bones under his thin shirt.
“Hey, I’m no younger than you are,” he snorted. “Yeah, I know.”
She winced at the rebuff and stepped back, frowning. “Sorry,” she muttered. This wasn’t going how she’d pictured.
“So, you said you were going to let me go,” he pressed.
She sighed. “Yes. And then I want an actual promise. I release you, Bowen cy’Fridmar.”
“And I’m free,” he smiled. “And yeah, I promise I’ll talk to Caitrin and Mendosa. Thanks.”
“But…” She blinked at him, feeling a bit lost.
“It’s okay,” Conrad said quietly, as Bowen dashed off down the path.
She looked off after him for another moment. “I thought he’d be happy,” she muttered. You thought he’d be grateful, you mean.
“Oh, he is. For now, at least. But he really has no way to know you’re any different than she was, and this is probably his first chance since Hell Night to really be on his own. He’ll come around.”
“No different than…” She chewed over that, looking over at Tolly thoughtfully, and then, hesitantly, back at Conrad. “Did I do the right thing?”
“Yes, Kaia,” he replied, stepping forward to hug her. “Yes, and you did it beautifully.”
She leaned into the hug, feeling, for a moment, reassured. “Thanks… thank you.” She looked up at Tolly. “I’m sorry. That was a pretty dirty thing to do to you.”
“I…” The giant shook his head. “You did what you had to do, for what was right.”
She untangled one hand from Conrad to reach up towards Tolly’s collar. “I’ll release you now,” she offered.
He took a step back, though, shaking his head once more. “No.”
Her hand dropped. “No?” She glanced at Conrad, to see if he understood any better than she did. Maybe he did; he didn’t look happy about it, but he didn’t really look surprised, either.
“No,” Tolly repeated. “I’m doing what I have to do, for what’s right.”