Ahouva clung to Basalt’s arm, not sure what he was doing or why he was doing it. Give Lolly back to Jeremiah? Was he going to give her back, too? She looked over at Kendon, still sprawled on the floor. He’d been really good to her, gentle and patient. It hadn’t been his fault that she was clumsy and stupid, that she made him…
No, that wasn’t right. That’s what he had said, over and over again. “I’m good to you, and you keep fucking up. I’m so patient with you, sweetie, but even I have my limits. I don’t like punishing you, but you leave me no choice.”
But she was bad. She’d been so slow to learn anything, even magic, which she loved, said all the wrong things around his friends, embarrassed him so much he’d started leaving her at home when he hung out with them…
She swallowed a sob. Why would Basalt want her? “Why?” she whispered softly.
He paused in his slow navigation of the bloody lounge and looked down at her. His smile looked gentler than anything she’d expected to see from him. “Why? It had to be done.”
It was almost what he’d said before, and it didn’t explain anything. “But…”
“I’m sorry,” he interrupted, “but shush for just a couple minutes, okay? Then we can talk about it as much as you want.”
She sealed her lips and nodded mutely. Give Lolly back… And Basalt was, still holding her, kneeling by Jeremiah, who looked so very close to dead. He muttered something – a Working, something to do with kaana, that was air, right? – and then spoke softly to the gutted scarecrow. Gutted. The guy holding her had done that, hadn’t he? Kendon might have, but Kendon was in no better shape.
“I don’t know what you were up to,” Basalt was murmuring softly, “but we both know I’m not up to handling Lolly.”
Ahouva looked up at the petite blonde in the ridiculous little-girl outfit, sucking on a lollypop and watching a pool of blood move towards her toes. She shivered, faintly, when the girl looked up at her, ice-blue eyes dispassionate. She had caught looks like that before, when Lolly happened to meet her eyes, as if wondering what she’d look like opened up on a table, dissected. She’d heard stories of what the other girl was like in Biology class, too, what she was like doing dissections. What would she have been like, if Jeremiah had won Ahouva? Was that why he’d challenged Kendon for her?
“…so let’s make this quick,” Basalt was saying. “As per the terms of the challenge…”
“Lolly, you Belong to Basalt,” Jeremiah croaked.
Lolly nodded, still smiling. “Okay. I’m all yours, Basalt,” she chirped. Ahouva wondered if either of the guys saw the tears leaking down the girl’s face.
“Yes, you are. And now, as per the terms of our agreement, Liliandra cy’Linden, you Belong to Jeremiah the Prophet.”
For the first time since meeting her, Ahouva saw the other girl look startled. “I what? I… you what?” She looked down at Jeremiah with a faintly accusing glare. “That wasn’t…” She shook her head. “I Belong to you, Jeremiah, the Prophet.”
“Yes, yes you do, doll,” he grunted out. “Now go get me Dr. Caitrin, please.”
While she scampered off, Basalt stood, still cradling Ahouva. “Now that that’s done, we can talk.”
She wasn’t certain if he meant that she could talk, so Ahouva nodded, her lips still pressed together. Of everything Kendon had done when he was mad at her, she’d hated being shushed the most. It meant she couldn’t even argue in her own defense.
“I’m going to take you to my room,” he continued. “We’ll get your stuff from Kendon’s room after the doctor is done with him, and then we can work out everything else.”
Everything else? He sounded surprisingly reasonable for a thug, but he was still in public. The worst wouldn’t happen until the doors were closed and the Administration could pretend nothing was going on. Ahouva nodded again, wishing he’d get on with it.
“It’s going to be okay,” he reassured her, as he carried her down the hall like a doll. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
She stared at him incredulously. Was that was this was all about? Did he think he was rescuing her? Had she seriously just been white-knight-and-the-dragon by a cy’Fridmar monster?
That expression actually got him to stop, and, worse, it got him frowning. “All right, we’re almost there,” he said, almost to himself, and started walking again. Maybe ten steps later, he shifted her weight in his arms, opened the door, and let them in.
His room, Ahouva decided, was very man-cave. Dimly-lit, dark colors, not all that messy but that seemed, in part, to be because there wasn’t that much stuff. The bed and a desk chair were the only places to sit; he put her down on the bed and pulled up a chair.
“Okay. One, I rescind the order to shush, and I apologize for that, but I wanted to deal with Jeremiah while he was still half-knocked out with pain. He’s too smart to deal with normally.”
“It’s okay,” she demurred. Was the blanket on his bed… fur?
“So,” he continued, not really acknowledging her answer, “I don’t know why he was challenging for you. Do you?”
“No?” She shook her head. “I never even talked to him – or to his Kept. I only have one class with him,” she added hurriedly, “and I always sit next to… sat next to Kendon.” Now what was she going to do?
“I don’t think he was going for ‘romantic’ motives,” Basalt assured her. “But I wonder what he was up to.”
“What about you?” she asked. “Did I really look like I needed rescuing? I tried to smile and put a good face on in public, I really did!”
“Hey,” he interjected, surprise and worry clear on his face. “Hey, Ahouva, nobody’s yelling at you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You managed to keep a stiff upper lip so well, it took a long time to notice anything was wrong.”
“Wrong? I mean, Kendon and I had our rough spots, but I was learning how to do better… I didn’t need rescuing,” she blurted, and then slapped her hands over her mouth. He could just give her back, too, right? Kendon couldn’t be too mad at her.
Basalt shook his head, looking at her. “I could really use an empath about now,” he muttered. “Listen, Ahouva. He was abusing you, and the bond – being Kept – was making you accept it. And it looks like maybe some stubbornness on your part, too,” he added in a mutter. Ahouva cringed and didn’t try to contradict him. “But you’re not with him anymore. You’re with me,” he added firmly.
“So…” She tried not to think about Ceinwen crying in the girls’ room. “What do you want me for?”
“Well…” He scooted his chair closer, until his knees were touching hers. “I was hoping you’d be my girlfriend.”
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