After Any Port
Baram looked between the short girl and his… his Viatrix. “You want her in here?”
“I don’t know if she wants to be in here. But she’s better in than out.” Via frowned for a moment. “Neska, right? I wasn’t there when you were Named.”
“Pocket Claws.” The girl shrugged; Baram didn’t blame her. “I, ah, someone pointed me in this direction.”
“Come in, if you mean me, mine, no harm.” Baram was managing to make that sound more and more coherent. He was getting far too much practice. “Not a safe house. But…” He let Via handle the rest.
“But if you don’t mind sleeping stacked or can help us build an addition, if you can work and will work, and if you’ll do what the Boss tells you with no orders, promises, or bond – then you can stay as long as you’re useful.” Via shrugged. She always shrugged at that part. Almost nobody stayed longer than a week. “It helps if you’re good with kids – where’re yours?”
Everyone who left Addergoole had kids. Some of them just didn’t have them. Baram’s house appeared to have more kids than anyplace else. He was drowning in children.
“Safe.” She stepped inside, keeping Baram between her and Viatrix. “With my mother.”
“Smart. You have a safe place already, then…?” Via stepped out of the way. “Let me give you the short tour.”
“I have a place I can keep them safe for a day or two. People… someone said that this place could be safe long-term.”
“Not a foxhole.” Baram fell in behind the girl. “Yes.”
The girl glanced back at him. Neska. Pocket-Claws-Neska. He would probably forget, but the more he worked at remembering the more bits he could hold on to.
“You don’t like people much, do you?” She had that quaver in her voice. Baram didn’t understand the quaver. He didn’t think it was fear, and it didn’t really sound like disgust, probably. He glanced over her shoulder at Viatrix.
Via snorted, and shrugged. “Baram doesn’t do people well. That’s part of why he has us.”
“Me. Jaelie, she left before your time, I think. Sa’Briar Rose. And Alkyone.”
“Alkyone? The Spear?” Her skin was pale all over again. “This place is run by the Life and the Spear…?”
“And the Briar. But no. This place is run by the boss.” She patted Baram’s shoulder in the way he only ever let her do. “It’s just managed by the three of us.”
“I thought you said this was a safe house.”
Now, Baram laughed. He could remember the skinny spider-girl – Callista-Bladed-Dervish – could remember her saying that.
“No. Not a safe house. Just a house that is safe.”
“..is it?” She looked around her; she was in a narrow hall between Via and Baram. No real exit. “For who?”
“For people who help out and carry their weight.” Via was big on that. Baram agreed.
“For people.” He put his hand on her head, splaying the fingers so that he encompassed the top of her head. “What I do. What I do is protect.”
She swallowed hard and stepped forward, so that his hand slipped to the back of her head. To her neck. “You’ll protect my children?”
“Yes. You carry your weight, I will protect your children.” Baram shrugged, and tried again. “Will protect children no matter what. Will protect you if you carry your weight.” His hand encircled most of her neck. She didn’t move. He glanced at Viatrix; she nodded.
Pocket-Claws-Neska made a quiet noise, like a hum. “Then I’ll pull my weight.” It sounded like an oath. She glanced up at Viatrix, and then back at Baram. “I’ll do what I have to.”
“Good.” Viatrix sounded just as serious, like she was collaring someone. “So will we.”
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