Friday, October 6, 2000
Dinner, Abednego had found, was one very rare part of the day that didn’t absolutely suck.
They had dinner with the crew, which meant Rafe was around Eris and Joff, and the two of them seemed to relax him. Neither of them would really look at Abednego or say his name, but they had their own Kept, too, so he could more or less pretend they weren’t ignoring him on purpose.
And their Kept, well. Joff’s Sequoia seemed content enough, although he tended to get a pinched-face frown when he was looking at either Abednego or Eris’ Kept, Zita. Zita would vary between pinched-lip silence and cheerful, almost insanely cheerful, conversation, neither of which made Abednego particularly comfortable, and both of which seemed to please her Keeper at unpredictable interludes.
Then again, unhappy Keepers seemed to be the norm in this suite, with even Joff having moments of random frowning. Abednego did his best to keep his head down and get food in. Rafe had only withheld food at dinner time once – the first week, when Abednego was still learning how to behave properly. Joff had started with a glare and ended up in a shouting match that seemed entirely out of character for the too-skinny, too-pretty boy. And when he’d shouted, Rafe had backed down – not grudgingly, either, but almost like he was embarrassed.
It might be the only meal Abednego got to eat with any regularity, but he always, always got to eat it. Considering the way this year was going, he’d take that – and would have thanked Joff, but the moment he opened his mouth, he’d been forbidden to speak to anyone else in the suite.
He noticed that Joff didn’t complain about that.
“You look like him.” Eris hadn’t spoken to Abednego since that awful party. Now, she wrinkled her nose and stared at him.
Abednego, of course, said nothing. He didn’t even look directly at her, just peeked in between bites of food.
She was glaring at him as if she could flay the skin from his bones with a look. She might be able to, come to think of it. Rafe might let her, too, if she could.
“You look like him,” she repeated. Zita said something, whether to distract her Keeper or just on a whim, but Abednego didn’t really hear her. Joff said something, and it was all noise in his ears.
You look like him. Which one? He wanted to ask. Shadrach? Meshach? He’d been told both, and he’d never been in a position to say I don’t see it. They were all dark, all brown-haired, all too skinny. That was it. He had as much in common with Rafe as he did them.
“Say something!” Eris snapped. Abednego shrugged helplessly. Even if he could speak, what would he say?
“Are you like them? On your own, I mean. Are you like your brothers?”
He could answer that. He shook his head, fast and emphatically. No. No, god no.
“He won’t be.” Rafe sounded pleased with himself. Abednego swallowed. “Not when I’m done with him.”
Eris pressed her lips together. “He looks just like them.”
“I know.” Rafe’s hand landed on Abednego’s shoulder hard; Abednego struggled not to flinch. Joff didn’t like it when he flinched, and Rafe didn’t like it when Joff complained. “He’s going to be a good boy, aren’t you, Abed?”
Abednego nodded slowly. It wasn’t like he had a lot of choice.
“Rafe…” Joff spoke slowly and unhappily. Abednego stared at a wall and tried hard not to think about what was going on, not to show anything on his face. “I don’t think you can Keep someone into not being a monster. Eventually, you’ll let him go. Eventually, he’s going to be on his own.”
“Well,” Rafe answered, sounded terrifyingly reasonable, “Shadrach and Meshach weren’t Kept. Maybe that’s what went wrong; they didn’t understand what it could be like.”
They just didn’t care. The wall was white and smooth, but it wasn’t, really. It was off-white, and there was a faint texture visible if you stared at it long enough. Abednego kept staring.
“And what is he going to become after a year under a collar?”
Abednego was pretty sure the answer was insane, but nobody was really asking him. Insane, or gibbering, or dead.
“He’s going to know what Keeping is like. He’s going to know what not to do.” Rafe’s hand tightened on Abednego’s shoulder. “He’s going to know what a good Kept acts like.”
Joff raised his eyebrows. “He’s your Kept.” It sounded strained. Abednego tried not to think about it.
“Yes, he is. Abednego, why don’t you go to my room. Take your dinner and go. Make sure you eat it all; you wouldn’t want Joff to worry about you, would you?”
“No sir, yes sir.” Abednego fled.
He didn’t need to be ordered to eat all his food. He ate every bit of it and licked the plate clean. Then he found himself curled into his corner, staring at the wall.
They were afraid he was going to turn into a monster. He laughed shortly, and very quietly. They were – all of them, even Joff – worried that he was going to turn into Meshach, into Shadrach. They were going to make sure he didn’t, that he – what? That he became an angel? That he knew what it was like to be Kept.
And his brothers had Kept them, had – what? He could guess. He knew what Meshach was capable of, what Shadrach did to be like Big Brother. He could imagine what they’d be like if they had complete control over someone. If nobody would stop them.
And they were going to do that to him, weren’t they? To show him what it was like. He pulled his knees up to his chest and laughed, quietly but desperately. They were going to show him what being under his brothers’ thumbs was like.
And nobody was going to stop them.