For Rix_Scaedu‘s commissioned prompt.
The guests were skittish, the taller one barely perching on the edge of her chair while Viatrix brought them all tea. She didn’t trust his promise. She wasn’t seeing him. She was seeing – what, a memory? Somebody he’d been once before? Jaelie called it his legend, his notoriety. She told him, over and over again until he could not forget, “I came for the legend.” Later, she told him, more times than the first thing, “I stayed for the man.”
This girl was staring at the legend. Baram found he wanted her to see the man.
“Gonna get the kids,” he grunted. Maybe she – and her very-quiet friend – could relax if they saw there were small people here. Happy small people. Before Via could say anything, he lumbered to the basement door. “Aly.”
He was pretty sure the little one didn’t mean him to hear her squeak. “In the basement?”
He was more sure that Via wanted him to hear her response. “Safety drill. Stranger danger; people at the door means get out of sight.”
“That makes sense.” That was the taller one, with a voice as sharp as her bones and her blades looked.
The kids tumbled out, picking up where they’d left off, leaving the dining room alone. They were learning fast. One of them climbed up Baram again, a little one, a girl. “Grr! Argh!”
“Grr,” he agreed. “Play castle later?”
“Awwwwww.” She slipped down his back like it was a slide and was off, chasing after one of the boys.
The visitors were still staring at him. He was going to have to deal with this. Baram rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. He knew he was a monster. He knew sometimes he earned that title. But he protected women and children. That was what he did.
“You trust him?” The small one thought she was whispering.
“With my life. With our kids.” It still made him feel warm to hear Via say that.
“We all graduated from Addergoole.” Aly cut the skinny one off, as if she was protecting Barem’s feelings. “Can you say that any of us are clean?”
“Still…” The skinny one looked at him like she was trying to look into his brain. Really, he needed to look into hers.
“Aly. I need…”
She knew what he needed. It wasn’t the first time she’d done it, although she never liked it. “Are you sure, Boss?”
“I am. Can you…” How to say it?
Via knew already. Neither of them were as smooth at this as Jaelie, but they knew him well. Better than he knew himself.
“Miss, he really doesn’t remember. And he’d like to understand. He’s been… he’s been changing, lately, since we’ve all been here, I think. But he can’t make amends for what he doesn’t remember.”
“Make…” The skinny one stared at him. “How can you think you can fix what you did?”
“Not fix.” He knew he was sounding more and more like a monster. He couldn’t seem to do better than that right now. He put his hands down on the table, carefully. “Understand, and make amends.”
“You. You, Baram cy’Fridmar, you want to make amends for what you did to me?”
“Me. Baram, the Shield.” He liked it better than any other Name he’d been given. “Yes. If you’ll let me.”
She sank back in her chair, staring at him. “You promise?”
“I promise I want to make amends.” It was an easy promise. “To you.” He was sure there were others, but today, it had to be her.
“What do you want to do? To… to what, understand?”
He tilted his head at Via. She talked better than he did.
“You still have all the memories. With your memories, miss-”
“Callista. The Bladed Dervish.”
“sa’Bladed Dervish. With your memories, I can trigger his. They’re locked away, otherwise.”
“You want to touch my mind?” Her throat bobbed up and down. She was far too thin. Baram wanted to feed her. Surprising that Aly or Via hadn’t brought her something already. “Will I have to relive it?”
“No. You can sleep, if you want, or just rest here. I won’t bring them to your conscious mind.”
She swallowed again. “And this will – he really doesn’t remember, otherwise?”
“He really doesn’t. As far as we can tell, he loses almost everything past six months. It’s all in there, somewhere, he just can’t access it.”
“That’s horrible.” The little one frowned at him. “You really don’t remember?”
She shrugged. “I don’t have… I don’t have quite such bad memories.” She thought about that for a moment, and added, “I mean, not just not as bad of memories of you. You were the boogeyman, but you were never my boogeyman. But not as bad of memories all around.”
“Some people get off more easily than others.” Aly sat down next to the little girl with a tray full of snack foods. How she’d manage to get that together without leaving the room, Baram didn’t know. He assumed magic. “And some people just slide around the bad stuff.”
“Oh, I had a bad Keeper. It’s just that Callista’s Keeper was… something else.”
“Aaah. Relative horror. If you were there with our employer, you must have been there during the bad years. I’ve heard stories.”
“The stories are usually twice as bad and not a third as horrible as it really was.” She shrugged again, and made a handful of cheese vanish into her mouth. “Callie, I think you should do it.”
“Yeah?” Her taller friend looked down at her. “Why?”
“You need to close something. You won’t track down the bastard who hurt you, and you’ve got this guy here willing to make amends. Close a door, put something behind you.”
The bastard who hurt you. Baram suppressed a growl. When he was done, when Jaelie was back and he could leave the house for a little while, then he would find this person who had hurt this guest, and he would pay him back in kind. People should not hurt women. Certainly not women who had carried Baram’s children.
“All right.” The woman – Callie? Callista? – nodded. “All right.”
Via, sensitive as always to Baram’s moods, glanced at him for permission. “Both of you close your eyes, please. Callista, sa’Dervish, please relax as much as you can. If you know how to blank your mind, please do that. Boss, you know what we’re doing.”
“I do.” He breathed until his mind was clear, emptying everything with each breath. It was always a little frightening, putting himself under. There were so few memories to begin with; he always wondered if there’d be anything at all left of him when he came back.
He had hurt this woman, whether or not he’d meant to. He could risk his Self to make amends.
Down, down. He breathed out the trappings of modern day, breathed in quiet.
The children were gone, the house, the women.
There was nothing but dark, and quiet.
The monster was gone.
There was nothing here but silence, nothing but cool darkness.
We need something from you. A demon spoke to him out of the darkness. We need someone to back us up. Shad and Mesh are getting too strong, and it’s going to come to a fight. We need your muscle.
Memory-self rumbled in response. That crew is nasty. Memory-self had no crew, just a friend he trusted to watch his back, and this demon, who asked things sometimes, and gave things in return.
They are, and they’ll run everything if someone doesn’t remind them they’re not the only game in town. Look, Callie will make it worth your while.
Another memory intruded on the first.
Make him happy. You know we need him. You know he needs you. Smile and be a good girl for him, Callie, and I’ll reward you when we get home.
The reward, the promise of a reward, might have kept her going without the order by that point. She needed the little things he gave her. She needed the moments where she could feel human. Even if it meant taking a monster to her bed.
Make him happy. She didn’t know if he could be happy. She’d barely ever seen him smile. He almost never talked. Rozen? Rozen had emotions. Rozen laughed. But Baram was just a thug, a golem, a creature made out of lumpy clay.
Callie knew what she was supposed to do in bed. It wasn’t the first time Ib had lent her out. Whored her out. She knew what to do, to make a guy feel like she was holding up her end of the deal. But she didn’t know if it would work with Baram.
A memory that might be his came back, over Callista’s worries.
He knew what it meant, when someone said they’d make it worth his while. He’d never had much luck, getting women in his bed normally. He had the graduation requirements to contend with, here. He had the fact that, while his brain might be a mess, while his Change might be monstrous, much of him was still a teenaged male.
She smiled when she came into his room. She never wore much, little shirts and tight jeans. Today she was wearing less. “Ib said you wanted me?”
She was going to scream, when he took his pants off. They all did. Even Isra. Even Ivette. He braced himself, and stripped.
And she smiled. It was a small smile, but she smiled.
Via…? Baram flailed, not understanding.
Make him happy. What was she going to do with that thing? What… that was what Ib had meant. She smiled, so he wouldn’t get unhappy, and walked towards him, murmuring under her breath. She had permission to do all the Workings she needed to make sure she held up her end of the deal. She could do this. She could take him in, and she could make him happy.
“You’re a big one.”
Baram remembered her saying that. He actually remembered, in the memories he could still get to. Not her, not the context, but that voice. Jaelie had said something similar, years later, and it had brought it back to him, the way memories almost never did: awed, a little bit scared, but ready to try.
He remembered a surge of uncommon affection when she had said that. Via’s touch on his memories brought it all back to him: the willingness in her voice, the little smile he’d never seen on her lips before. The way she closed her eyes and arched back against the pillows, while all six of her arms touched him.
She said son… Could Via get that for him, too? He knew, because the girls had told him, that he must have fathered two children to get out of Addergoole. But he had no memory of either child, no memory of naming them, none of holding them.
Brace yourself, Boss.
She didn’t want to let go of the tiny baby. She was afraid if she let go, Ib would never give him back. Somehow, her little boy would vanish like her little girl had, and she would be alone with Ib again.
The big oaf was waiting, quietly – he was usually quiet – staring off into the fake horizon. She wondered if there was enough going on upstairs for him to do a naming. Was there anything at all in there, except meanness and violence?
“Give him the baby, Callista.” Ib’s order left no room for argument. “Say the words.”
He voice cracked, but she got the words out. “This is the son you have given me, Baram cy’Fridmar. I give him into your hands to be named.”
Son.Son. Her son, and this monster was handling him. She was surprised at how careful the big hands were. She didn’t want to remember that his hands had been gentle with her, too. He was a monster, and he had raped her. What did it matter if he’d been trying not to leave bruises? He was Lenny, a big oaf. She knew what happened to girls around oafs like that.
But Ib wasn’t going to let her not hand over her son to him.
“I take this son that I have given you, Callista cy’Pelletier. I will return him to you in the morning with his name.” She’d never heard him say that many words at once. And then, while she choked on tears, he turned and was gone, gone with her son.
The memory-trance was gone. Baram blinked at the women, skinny and hard-edged, and tiny and sharp. “I Named him Brand.” He could remember more than that, although he felt it fading already. “Like the fire. Like a beacon. Is he like that?” He could not quite find the words. “Like a … signpost?”
Viatrix, her fingers still in his mind, tried to translate. “A signal fire, a sign that danger is coming, or a sign that safety is there. He saw Brand as a light in the night.” She smiled, then. “A safe house?”
“A… oh.” Callista blinked. “Is that…? You never said.”
“Did you ever ask?” Via’s voice was very soft. “The man who Kept you, sa’ Bladed Dervish, he deserves pain and more pain, over and over again, for what he did to you.”
Callista flinched. “I don’t want to see him.”
“The time will come. We have all been hurt, you know.” Via stretched out over the table, placing her hand just inches from the skinny woman’s. “In our time.”
Baram knew the words, now. He didn’t know how long he would hold them. “Sa’ Bladed Dervish, Callista. I did not know I was being used to hurt you. I did not want to hurt you. I am sorry I did.”
She stared at him like he’d taken all her foundations out from under her. Maybe he had. She clutched Viatrix’s hand, and her short friend’s hand in another, and, before Baram could try to figure out more words, she burst into tears.
It’s okay, boss. Via’s voice was careful in his mind. Baram did not like tears. I’ve got this.
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