“Just do it.” Luke knew his voice was shaking, but he held out hope that Regine wouldn’t notice. “Regine. Mike’s right. She has the cards here.”
“Luca, I am not going to leave you to be Kept by this, this… woman.”
“I don’t see why not.” He found himself chuckling a little bit. Regine would not understand. Hopefully, Mike would, and he’d be able to explain it. If not, well, Regine could hold a grudge for a very long time. He’d have plenty of time (he hoped) to explain himself later. “Look, Regine, we’ve been letting her Keep Addergoole graduates – and by that I mean not stopping her, let’s be honest – for decades now. What’s wrong with letting me see what my students went through?”
“You are not a student.” Regine was livid. This was not going to help matters; Cya could see that sort of opening and she wouldn’t hesitate to take it.
“No. But neither are they when she Keeps them. Look, Regine. Take the offer.” He stretched his wings carefully, feeling the place where things were still healing. “She’s got you — us — in a tight place, and it’s not going to get any easier by you huffing and puffing.”
“I am not ‘huffing and puffing.'”
“…Much,” Mike muttered.
Luke snorted. “Regine, I know you.” He was tired. His brain was clouded. He tried to make his voice gentle anyway. “I know what you do. Take the offer. I’ll get back to you when I can.” He snorted again. “We live forever, ‘Gene, and you’ve got my kid there with you. You’ll be fine for a couple decades.”
Cya cleared her throat. He could hear the difference between her a-hem and Regine’s. “You have four years to find a replacement for him, Director Avonmorea. Whatever deal I make with him, it will give him the time to teach for the next four school years. That should let him clear his current roster of cy’ree.”
Luke stared at the phone as if he could see her expression through it. What was she doing? Why was she doing it? “That’s very generous.”
“Leo is very fond of you. That buys you a lot of leeway.”
His wings twitched in frustration. He knew why she irritated Regine so much. But he wasn’t in a position, at the moment, to indulge himself.
You put yourself in this position, he reminded himself. He cleared his throat and looked at the phone again. “Thank you.”
“Luca, you can’t mean to…”
“Luke, come on, we need you…”
Luke sat down hard on the divan. “‘Gene. Mike. I’m not going that far away. And you’ll be fine without me, and so will the school. It’s been a long time.” He was so tired, and he didn’t think it was just the injuries and the hawthorn. “You have lots of students of mine who could take my place for a little while.”
There was a moment where nobody spoke. Luke imagined Regine attempting to stare Cya down. He imagined the way she’d looked when she’d come up to them, Leo laying bleeding out on the ground. He remembered that look. It was more frightening now than it had been her first year of school.
Regine cleared her throat. “Very well. Luca Hunting-Hawk, I release you from all oaths you have sworn to me. I release you from your oaths to the school. I release you from your promise to the crew. You are free of your ties to me, Hunting-Hawk.”
Mike’s voice came in the rushing of Luke’s ears. “Luke… I release you from your promises to me. You are free of me, Luke, Hunting-Hawk.”
He did not so much lay down as he fell over. There was weight lifted from his mind he hadn’t known was there. He gasped, and again, but the pressure behind his eyes was too much.
Unconsciousness took him.
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