Near the end of Year 5
There were nights when Rafe woke up not knowing where he was anymore. Those were the bad nights – not the worst, but close to it. He’d stare at the ceiling, or at Renata’s fall of blonde hair, refusing to move, afraid to even breathe, until he remembered that this was his Kept, not his Keeper, that this was okay, that he was safe.
He never talked about those moments with anyone. Of the three of them – Eris and Joff and him – he was supposed to be the strong one, supposed to be the calm one. Of the three of them, he’d had it the easiest. Nobody had taken to cutting him up as a weekend hobby. Nobody had locked him in the closet whenever he forgot his script. He was strong. Protective. He wasn’t supposed to be the one with nightmares.
Last night had started with a bad night, and things were not looking up. He smiled at Eris, squeezed Joff’s hand, and gave Renata a gentle hug. “We’ll be back in a few hours. We’re going to go visit the kids.”
“I wish I could come with you.” Renata wrinkled her nose and looked down at the floor. “I’d like to meet your kids. Your other kids.”
“You will, eventually. I’m sure of it.” He rubbed her back for a moment in apology. “But not today. Stay here, okay?”
“Okay.” She settled carefully into the couch. “Maybe I’ll get some homework done.”
“Good idea.” Praise, touch. Gentleness. Those were the things that made a Keeping bearable, that made it feel like a warm nest instead of a cold cage. Rafe knew exactly what the lack of those things felt like, and he was not going to do that to his Kept. “We won’t be that long.”
He pulled his imaginary armor over himself as they left her behind. The smile faded into something hard and wolfish. His back straightened; he raised his chin. He didn’t have to look at Joff and Eris to know they were doing the same.
They were visiting their children. They were visiting Liza.
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