She thought it was right.
Bowen chewed over that while they went through the checkpoints – those were new, or maybe they were just there because they were entering through the Village and not through Luke’s elevator – and parked the car in front of the motel.
“Addergoole has a motel?”
“Addergoole has all sorts of things they don’t bother telling you about.” Phelen tilted his head at the tidy little two-story motel. “This thing. The crèche. The cake shop.”
“Crèche… no.” Bowen shook his head. “I don’t want to know.”
“Happens to guys here more often than you’d think.” Rozen wandered up beside them and doled out four room keys – actual keys, each with a room number painted on it.
“They get used as a turkey baster and dumped?”
Rozen snorted. “Lots do, here. And lots of women take off with the kids as soon as they can.”
“Addergoole isn’t exactly known for fostering loving long-term relationships.” Phelen was a mass of drippy shadows. Bowen glowered at him anyway.
“You got a pretty good deal out of it, didn’t you?”
“I did.” He clearly saw no point in arguing it. “But it’s not like I haven’t seem other people fuck up, or get fucked up.”
“Enough girl chat.” Baram laid a meaty hand on each of their backs. “She’s this way.”
Rozen followed their not-entirely-willing progress with a deep laugh. “That man has radar for pretty girls.”
“It’s Addergoole.” Even being shoved along the road, Bowen felt brave enough to try a joke. “Finding a pretty girl is mostly like ‘walk out door, point.’”
“Or just ‘point.’” Phelen was inordinately proud of himself. Just because he’d gotten a girl his first year – and his second year. Okay. Bowen would probably be proud of that, too.
“You got lucky, squid butt.” Rozen punched Phelen in the arm. Bowen had to be a little impressed at how much Phelen didn’t flinch. Being punched like Rozen was like being hit by a Mack truck.
“I got skills, Drow.”
“Nobody’s ever called you a dark elf before?”
“People don’t call me a fairy.”
“Kai.” Baram punched them both in the arm, which made both of them, it looked like, struggle not to flinch. Baram was the whole train. “Be fairies later.”
Rozen grumbled a few choice insults, but it looked like talking about Kailani was enough to shut him up. Bowen made a note of that. The big man had a weak spot.
“Everyone,” Professor Fridmar had taught him, “has weak spots. Trick is to learn where yours is, and guard. Not to not have weak spots. That would be stupid.”
Bowen had been determined never to be trapped again. He still was determined: nobody would ever collar him. Nobody would ever have that sort of power over his emotions, over his mind again. Nobody would ever cut his tail off again.
Professor Fridmar had given him quite a few words on the subject. “Don’t be rock. Rocks get broken. Be tree, bend.”
Bend. Bowen didn’t want to bend anymore.
“Come on, lambkins.” Rozen grabbed his shoulder, shaking him out of his memory. “Time to go. You can moon off at the scenery later.”
“I wasn’t…” He didn’t want to explain that to these guys. “Coming.”
The Village was as ridiculous as it has always looked.
Bowen didn’t get it. Regine and her people could have made it look like anything; they chose to go for as close to Norman Rockwell bullshit as they could. "Normal Americana." Right. They were anything like normal. They were even anything like human.
The motel was just off Main Street, with its little storefronts and its freaks pretending they were normal. Nobody Masked out here, not in the summer. There were no new kids to scare, nobody but the denizens of Freakville.
Bowen liked the word denizens. Professor VanderLinden had taught it to him, perhaps in an attempt to apologize for the monster that was its Student and Bowen’s Keeper. Professor VanderLinden had taught Bowen a lot – and Bowen had, for the first time, discovered he could enjoy English class.
Denizens. And any of another handful of words Aggie hadn’t thought to forbid.
"I wouldn’t have figured you for a space cadet. Reminiscing?" Phelen’s voice was soft, barely more than a whisper.
"Kinda." Bowen shrugged. "Guess it wasn’t all bad. Magic. Good teachers." Something like honesty compelled him to add, "Tolly and Dysmas weren’t all bad. They just wouldn’t do anything to stop her. ‘Just go along with what she wants and it’ll be easy.’" He shook his head. "Always wondered if she had some sort of mind control going. Couldn’t have been Keeping them, right, since Dysmas had Nydia and Tolly got collared? But maybe some sort of Working…?"
"People are sometimes loyal for really stupid reasons. Shiva being loyal to Ty, for example." Phelen shook his head. "I’m not saying it wasn’t magic, just that maybe it was just stupidity. We’ll see what Dysmas is like without her around." His shadows imitated a shrug. "What Shiva’s like, too."
"Hunh." Bowen wondered about that, but what was he going to say? Not his business, really.
"Are you two ladies having fun back there?" Rozen had plenty to say. Then again, Rozen always had plenty to say. "Come on, we’re almost there."
Rozen was a little funny about Kailani. Bowen had never seen the big guy looking that impatient, or that – it couldn’t be nervous. Rozen would never be nervous. Would he?
Baram, at least, just looked like Baram. And Phelen was back to looking like a creepy cloud of shadows. Bowen elbowed the shadow-mass. "The creepy look is totally going to ruin my thanks."
"Bah, it’ll just make it all the more cool." Phelen pulled the darkness back in, though. "You gonna try to make this good?"
"I dunno?" Bowen shrugged. "I mean, I gotta do it." He nodded his head at the impatient mass of Rozen ahead of them. "And she did…" Shrug. He didn’t like saying "she pulled my mutton out of the fire," but it was true.
"All right. Here’s what you do then. I might be cy’Fridmar, but I barely missed being cy’Drake, and you learn a lot about the formalities." Phelen continued in a low whisper as they walked across the Village.
It was formal all right. But Bowen knew, too, that it was the right thing to do. Like Kailani rescuing him because she thought it was the right thing. Like him helping her stop Aggie later, although that had been at least fifty percent revenge.
"Here we are." It was a pretty cottage, like most of the things here, made to look like something safe and innocuous – another VanderLinden word, innocuous – and human. This one had a moat, which was a little different, at least. And a wide wooden door with a lion’s-head knocker.
Maybe she wouldn’t answer. He knocked anyway. Some things, you really didn’t have any choice about.
Knocked, and then, when she opened the door, knelt on one knee. "Kailani cy’Regine, I owe you a debt of honor." The words were awkward, but they were right. "I owe you deeply, for the good you did me. I humbly request that you tell me what I can do to repay this."
He really didn’t expect her to start crying.
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