(I should pay a little more attention to my list; this was for longfic)
Delaney snaked her way in front of Ardell, grinning, all sweetness-and-light and innocence. Baram didn’t budge, and he didn’t miss the three weapons she was carrying openly. Spear, sword, gun.
“We heard you were running a safe house, Baram. We heard you had some Addergoole girls working for you. We heard you had weapons, had food.”
Ardell slunk to the side of Delaney. No smile, more weapons. He often pretended, but he wasn’t pretending to be sweet, at least. “We heard you were living the sweet life here, surrounded by pretty things. Like the girl who answered the door. And we figured we’d pay an old friend a visit.”
Baram looked at the two of them. He glanced over his shoulder – very briefly – at Alkyone. He looked back at people who had been, if not his friends, his allies.
The next words came easily to him. “Who are you?”
They shared a look. A look, and then Delaney’s shoulders shifted, and Ardell took a step backwards. “We’d heard…” Ardell frowned. He looked actually bothered. “We’d heard you forgot things.”
“Did you really forget us?” Delaney did a believable pout. “After everything we went through together?”
Ardell picked up on the cue. “Yeah, man, all that time together in school, we were like crew. We were solid friends. And you forgot all of that?”
How much of it did they mean? Baram shrugged. “Forgot most things. Jaelie remembers for me.”
“This is Jaelie?” Delaney waved her fingers. “Hi. We’re old friends of Baram’s, like we said.”
“No.” Alkyone’s voice was hard. “I’m Alkyone. Jaelie is elsewhere.”
“Elsewhere.” Delaney sneered the word out. “Aren’t you cute? And I bet you think you’re smart, too. Move over, chica. We’re here to visit our old friend, Baram.”
“Alkyone is a new friend.” Baram spoke slowly, the way he could remember talking, sometimes, when he was having a bad day, “one of those episodes,” Jaelie called them. “Alkyone lives here.”
“Well, of course she does.” Ardell took Delaney by the shoulders and pushed her out of the way – carefully, Baram noted; there was no violence in the way they handled each other. “And you do, too, right, buddy? Remember how we said we’d always open our doors to each other?”
“Don’t remember you.” He remembered the conversation Ardell was talking about. Ardell and Del, Ib and Rozen and Baram. Baram remembered saying nothing, shaking no hands, just sitting back with someone pretty curled on his lap and watching them talk.
Baram wondered how much of the rest of his Addergoole experience he remembered differently, like the spider-girl and her horrified memories of him. But this was different; this was lies.
“Of course you remember us.” Ardell’s voice was getting sharp. “Of course you’re going to let us in. Baram, come on, think of all the things I’ve done for you. How much fun you had with my Kept over the years. How much fun you could have with my Kept now.”
“You have Kept?” That was a different matter.
“Boss. Trouble on the horizon.” Viatrix came up on Baram’s other side. “Looks like bad trouble, too. The alarms caught seven.”
The alarms had been the girls’ idea and mostly their implementation; Baram’s house wasn’t the only group of people still living here, but they were the most combat-ready and, in other ways, the most vulnerable. Kids made you weak, but in weird and strong ways.
“First alarms?” The first alarms were four miles out. Plenty of time.
That was harder; the second were two miles out.
A glance back at their unwelcome guests showed Ardel’s shoulder’s tense and Delaney trying to press herself as close to the threshold as possible. “Come on, Baram, you’ve got to let us in. For old time’s sake. For when we were friends.”
“Boss. They’re trouble.” Alkyone’s voice held warning. “And they’re bringing trouble here.”
Del’s voice shifted to nasty again. “And do you think they’ll care if you have actually helped us? No, they will take you down one way or the other.”
“You brought enemies to our door?” Baram didn’t need to look to know that Via and Alkyone were now holding their weapons. Via’s voice told him everything he needed. “You brought hunters here, to our safe haven?”
“It’s not yours, bitch.” Ardel had lost the last semblance of courtesy and niceness. “It’s our friend’s. Baram’s.”
“I think you’re under a misapprehension-” Alkyone began, but Baram had had enough of the back-and-forth, especially with potential hunters on the way.
“Their house, my house, our house. Not yours. Get in back. Basement doors by apple tree.” Baram pointed. “Stay there if you want to live.”
“So you remember us, buddy?” Ardel’s smile was back as fast as it had left.
“No.” Best to keep up the lie. “Get in basement. Fast.”
The door by the apple tree didn’t lead to the house basement, but the hidey hole there was safe, protected by Baram’s threshold…
…and a bit of a trap. Another thing Ardel and Delaney didn’t need to know until they were in there.
Luckily, nobody expected that sort of thing of Baram. They moved – fast.
On the horizon, Baram was beginning to be able to make out an oncoming enemy.
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