Promised Page 18

“You turned out fairly decent the way you are,” Gaia said. “Besides, if you’d lived outside the wall, you might have died like your sisters and your mother did.”

He smiled. “I’d like to think I would have lived and met you sooner. ‘Fairly decent,’ huh?”

You know what I mean, she thought. “I just wish the Protectorat could see it.”

He straightened slowly. “Did he say something about me?”

She tried to find words that wouldn’t revive bad memories, but there was no way around it. “He brought up your sister Fiona,” she admitted. “How come he doesn’t know what you’re really like?”

“Gaia,” he said, drawing out her name and sliding his arm away at the same time. “You don’t want to go there.”

“I’m going to have to deal with him,” she said. “I want to understand what’s between him and you. You just said I could tell you anything. You can tell me, too.”

“It isn’t something I can just explain,” he said. His voice was different, tighter.

“Just try me.”

He pressed his hands between his knees. “I don’t know. Maybe this’ll give you an idea,” he said. “Back when I was about ten, my father’s old teacher came to visit for an overnight. He had a little wooden puzzle box that went missing. When the Protectorat found out, he got angry. Embarrassed, I guess he was. We were supposed to be on our best behavior, and it was obvious that one of us kids had stolen it.”

“Did you get blamed?”

He shook his head. “I was afraid I would, but they found it in my brother Rafael’s things that night. He was about six, but he was old enough to know better, and he’d lied about it, too. That put my father over the edge. I was certain he was going to beat my brother, so I refused to leave the room when my father ordered me out. I thought I could protect him somehow.”

His voice tapered off. She waited, picturing the two brothers, the littler one cowering behind the older boy. Leon ran a hand back through his hair, and then leaned forward and pressed his hands slowly, carefully together.

“My father didn’t hit him.” Leon’s voice was dead calm. “He yelled at him and scolded him. He threatened him, but he never hit him. He never even touched him.”

She watched his profile. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is.” He angled his profile upward, toward the night sky. “My father never hit Rafael or my sisters. It was only me he hit. You see, until that night, I thought all fathers hit their sons.” Old hurt and confusion crept into his voice. “I thought what he did to me was normal.”

Gaia hugged Maya more tenderly. “Did he hit you often?” she asked softly.

“No. Two or three months could go by with nothing, and then he might hit me twice in a week,” he said. “It wasn’t consistent. Once I ruined his favorite watch and he barely mentioned it. Another time, I dribbled milk down my chin when I laughed at the dinner table, and he took a belt to me. That was a bad one.”

“I’m so, so sorry,” she said. “Didn’t Genevieve do anything to protect you?”

“I think she intervened a lot, actually,” he said. “I think she’s why he went for longer stretches without touching me. But what could she really do? Tell somebody?” He leaned back slightly, bracing a hand behind him again. “I’m not sure why I’m even telling you this. I know plenty of other kids whose parents were hard on them.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” Gaia said.

Leon shrugged. “You get used to it.”

But Gaia knew she never could have. Her parents had never been anything but gentle with her, even when they disciplined her. “It’s the contempt that would get to me,” she said.

“‘Contempt,’” Leon said, as if testing the concept. “I suppose that’s what it was.”

“Did being advanced have something to do with it?” she asked.

“Possibly. Adopting me was his first wife’s idea, not his,” he said. “He never made any pretence about hiding that, but he went along with it. He used to say I ought to be able to rise above my nature.”

“Like you were innately bad? That’s awful,” Gaia said.

“More inferior than bad. And he had a point.” Leon seemed to relax slightly. “I was a liar, much worse than Rafael. I liked seeing how much I could get away with. It was always worth it. I was lousy at school and sports, except running, and I never raced when my father could see me. That way I didn’t have to care that he never showed up. The one thing I was good at was getting the twins to laugh. I could play with them for hours, and they loved that.”

She smiled in the darkness, thinking of how sweet he was with Maya. “I can imagine.” The moonlight dimmed, and she looked up to see the crescent glowing through a slow-moving cloud. “Was Fanny your mother’s name? Your first adoptive mother?”

“Fanny Grey, yes. Why?”

She recalled how the Protectorat had said it would hurt Fanny to know Leon had taken a different last name. Passing that along to Leon would serve no good. “I just remember you used her name.”

“Yes, after I was disowned.” His boot made a shifting noise on the step. “I’ve sometimes wondered if I was his biggest failure,” Leon said. “I think he tried to overcome his prejudice against people outside the wall by raising one of us himself. Then it turned out he couldn’t stand me, and I was right there, in his family, spoiling everything.” He brushed a bug off his knee. “Who was he going to blame for that?”

She took his theory another step. “And then the mess happened with Fiona. I think I see, now.” The Protectorat had naturally blamed Leon. He’d been looking for the worst in him for years, and Fiona’s death provided the final proof of how evil Leon was.

She suddenly understood a comment the Protectorat had made to Genevieve a few hours earlier: “He had his hands on her.” The Protectorat had been agonized by the idea that his other daughter Evelyn was still vulnerable to Leon, because the Protectorat didn’t believe Leon was innocent. Leon had played on that.

A shiver rippled through Gaia.

Leon turned to her. “There’s so much I wish I could undo with Fiona,” he said quietly. “I still feel like it’s my fault she killed herself. I don’t think that’ll ever completely go away. But it’s better than it was. I can see now that I did the best I could. I was hardly more than a kid myself, and selfish, but I didn’t know what she was going to do.”

“You are the gentlest person I know,” Gaia said.

He let out a laugh. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“With me, you are.” That, she realized, was the kernel of Leon right there. She could trust him about herself completely and knew he’d be loyal to her forever, but she couldn’t count on how he might be with anyone who crossed him, or ever tried to hurt the people he loved.

“Gaia, I don’t want you to ever underestimate my father,” he said. “He is absolutely, completely, irreversibly ruthless. I want you to be ready for that. This isn’t Sylum here.”

“I know,” she said, touching her ear and remembering she still needed to properly clean her cut. “But I have to think of an approach that’s going to be right for all of New Sylum. We can’t just blow up something. We have to build trust and a long-term alliance with your father. That’s much, much harder to do.”

“You aren’t hearing me. You still need to be able to mount a counterattack,” Leon said. “What if he tries to arrest you again or assassinate you? You must see that anything’s possible. It’s your responsibility to be prepared.”

He won’t assassinate me, she thought. He needs something from me. She had an image of Mabrother Iris’s piglet in its pen, and had the feeling she was missing something he’d been trying to tell her.

“What sort of thing would you do to prepare?” she asked.

“I’d take a team into the tunnels and sabotage the power grid and the water system.”

“Sabotage them how?”

“With explosives on timers.”

“And how would you do that?”

He shrugged. “I’d get a couple old friends to help me.”

She realized he’d been planning this. “You sound like a terrorist.”

He hesitated. “No. I’d just set things up to use for self-defense. I could do it without putting any people at risk. We have to be prepared, Gaia,” he said. “The Protectorat wouldn’t hesitate to hurt us if he had to.”

“This is not how we’re going to operate,” she said.

“You don’t have to authorize an actual offensive, Gaia, but it has to be ready. The Protectorat will respond to pressure if he finds we can nail his resources. It’s no different from when he turned off the water for Wharfton,” he said. “Don’t be naïve. Please. By the time you want to use violence, it’ll be too late to set it up if we don’t start now.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “Remember what I said. When you threatened Evelyn, your father was ready to go berserk. I saw him. Threatening him only escalates the problem.”

“You have to remember, too. My threats got you out of the Enclave, didn’t they?”

He had a point. Gaia ran her fingers into the hair over her forehead. “Tomorrow,” she conceded. “We’ll work on it tomorrow.”

“That could be too late.”

“It’s just a few hours from now,” she said. “It won’t make a difference.”

“I’ll go talk to Peter now and set things up,” Leon said.

“Please don’t. Please just be with me. Do I have to beg you?”

She swiveled toward the door of her parents’ home to listen. All was quiet within, and a faint glow in the window suggested a fire in the fireplace had burned down to embers.

He shifted on the step, and his grave features eased slightly. “That’s a change. At least you didn’t order me this time.” He leaned nearer to kiss her. “Where’d you get berries?”

“I didn’t have any berries.”

“Let me see.” He kissed her again. “You’re right. It’s more like apple pie. Let me see.”

She smiled slowly, kissing him back, and lingering when he took his time. “We have to get to bed,” she said. “It’s late.”

“Fine by me.”

“Bed. As in, fall asleep.”

He changed his angle to kiss her in a different direction. “But together, right?”

“Um,” she began. He really did have a nice mouth. She probably hadn’t told him that in so many words, but it was easy to forget her problems while he was—

She backed up. “There won’t be any privacy in there,” she said.

“Don’t you have a romantic little chicken coop out back?”

She laughed. “I am not going in some chicken coop with you.”

He gave her a last, light kiss and swiveled to his feet. He held out his hands. “I think rejecting me cheers you up. Give me that girl.”

“Be careful. She’s asleep. And we should be quiet.” She didn’t want to disturb Myrna, Jack or Angie. Gaia passed her sister to him. Then she stood and opened the door to her old home.

Chapter 11

the dna registry

MYRNA SILK TURNED FROM the fireplace with a poker. “I thought I heard voices,” she said. Barefoot, she was dressed in a long gown with a shawl around her shoulders. Her white hair fell in a short, silvery braid, grown out since her time in prison. “I’m glad you’re safe, Gaia. Are you hungry?”

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