When Leo walked into Cya’s front yard carrying her Kept over his shoulder, she found that she wasn’t surprised, and that she was more than a little relieved.
It wouldn’t be enough, of course. Apollo was the most stubborn, ridiculous, arrogant man she had had the misfortune to deal with…
…since Leo and Howard were that age, a thought she was doing her best to suppress, especially considering how Leo’s fierce smile vanished when he caught her looking at him.
He set her Kept down on her porch as Cya opened her door and deftly avoided the angry punch Apollo attempted to throw.
“I see you’ve met Professor Inazuma. Come in.” She made it an invitation for Leo and an order for Apollo. “Leo, I see you’ve met my new Kept. I hope he wasn’t too difficult.”
“He wasn’t difficult at all!” Leo was having fun, a smile flashing onto his face before he remembered he was supposed to be feeling bad. “Ah, we got in a bit of a fight…”
“You kicked his ass, you mean.” She watched Apollo’s face; she didn’t need to watch Leo’s to know what was going across it. He’d be hang-dog for a moment, and then proud of himself again.
Apollo was warring with something simpler: pride and fear. He’d noticed, then, how much stronger, how much more skilled than him Leo was. Good. “Are you just going to let him manhandle your Kept like that?” He spat out the word Kept. He always did. But the end of the sentence was more like a plea. “Or–“
“We were playing a bit of Let’s Pretend.” The pride was clear in Leo’s voice, and the anger and fear were sparking in Apollo’s face again.
“You were playing! I was–“
“You were saying you could handle yourself.” She could hear the sharp smile in Leo’s voice. “If I’d been a slaver, you’d be in chains by now.”
It was hardly a fair challenge. They had great-grandchildren older than this boy.
Slavers wouldn’t be fair, either.
“Leo was cy’Luca, too, Apollo, back when we were kids. A lot of kids have been, through the years, if you do the math.” She kept her eyes on him. “One or two in every Cohort… One or two cy’Fridmar, too, and they’re just as vicious in a fight, more likely to cheat, and more likely to turn evil. Never mind the cy’Sakamoto; nobody knows which way they’ll go. And most of the cy’Doug would rather kill you than look at you.”
“I get it!” He flung his arms upward violently. “Yeah, sure, there’s lots of assholes out there. But I’m good, okay? This jackass got the jump on me, that’s all.”
He didn’t believe it, or Cya would have been more harsh with him. Instead, she raised her eyebrows and waited for the moment where he shifted from foot to foot and dropped his arms and his gaze.
She glanced back at Leo, wondering if he remembered when he was that young and stupid. Time enough for that conversation later.
“By the time I’m done with you, it will be a lot harder for anyone to get the drop on you. And step one is realizing that somebody can and will.”
And, because he was her Kept and this one, damnit, she could protect, she kept going. “In the meantime, this is my city. If anyone other than Leo here attacks you, you tell them that you Belong to me. If that doesn’t stop them, you can feel free to tell anyone who can hear you that you’re mine. For this year, at least, that ought to keep you safe.”
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