Slavery, 41

Sometimes the Best Way to Defeat Someone Is to Give Them What They Want

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One day, Daniel reflected as he woke up, he’d like to wake up and remember why he wasn’t where he’d fallen asleep.

He lay there quietly, eyes closed, trying to keep his breathing normal, as he took stock. He was in a comfortable bed, a warm room. Theodore’s bed, by the smell, but he was dressed and alone under the blankets.

Darwin. Greg and Roderick. They’d gone over the wall. Darwin had knocked him out. They must have found him, brought him back inside. Right.

Daniel opened his eyes, slowly turned his head. He was on Theodore’s side of the bed, but Theodore definitely wasn’t in the bed with him. Sunlight was coming in through the window. It was past noon, looked like.

He shifted, started to sit up. There was movement over from the sitting area. “Daniel?”

It was Theodore’s voice, unfortunately. “How long was I asleep?” he asked, sitting up properly, letting the blankets fall off him. He was wearing one of Theodore’s shirts, not one of his white ones.

“The rest of the night and a good portion of today,” Theodore told him, standing and coming over to sit on the edge of the bed beside Daniel. He looked pale, but unhurt.

“So it hasn’t been that long,” Daniel said, taking stock of his body. He had some bruises, but he was fine too. He had to pee. “There’s still time to go after them. There’s still time to…”

“No, there isn’t,” Theodore said softly. “They escaped. The guard reports that a man and two boys matching their descriptions were able to get through the eastern gate a few hours after we were attacked. They’re gone.”

“Shit,” Daniel hissed, fisting the blanket. “Okay. He would want us to think that that means they’re not going east—but he knows that we’re smart enough to think that and look to the east.” Heading out through that gate would imply that they were heading west to White Cape or Pelican Bay at least as a first destination. “They’re probably going to go southeast, maybe to the capital or even Kyaine.”

“I shall have people looking for them in every direction,” Theodore assured Daniel, in a tone that had Daniel looking up. “Darwin took the stones with him when he left.”

Daniel frowned, looking at Theodore for a long moment. “What the fuck,” he whispered. “That’s…that was never part of my job. It was never part of his job.”

“Or at least not that he told you.”

“Fuck,” Daniel said again, resting his head in his hand for a minute. “How could he…the whole time that’s what he was after? But no, because you didn’t have the stones before I came here, way back when they started all this. It couldn’t have been the plan all along.”

“Unless the plan changed,” Theodore said, taking Daniel’s hand for a moment. “After the fact, and you weren’t notified. We have no way of knowing now, as we’ve lost all three of them.”

“Yeah, I know, there’s no way for us to…wait.” There was no way for them to get at who Darwin’s employer was without Darwin. Or there hadn’t been. But… “Do my job,” Daniel said softly, to himself.

“Excuse me?”

“Before he knocked me out, Darwin told me to do my job,” Daniel said, looking back up at Theodore. “He could have killed me and he didn’t. Why not?”

Theodore looked down at Daniel for a moment, expression confused. “Because he still thinks you can be convinced to kill me?”

“I think so. What if…” Daniel paused, possibilities running through his head.

“I should rather hope you’re not considering actually doing it,” Theodore warned.

“I’m always considering actually doing it,” Daniel muttered, taking a breath. “What if I pretended I’d killed you? There was a place I was supposed to go after I did, where I’d be met and taken away. What if I went there and told them I’d done it? If Darwin still thinks I’ll do it, whoever was supposed to meet me there might still show up. We might be able to get information out of them.”

“Or you could be killed,” Theodore said softly. “This could easily be Darwin trying to lure you into a trap, Daniel.”

Daniel shook his head. That didn’t make sense. “But why would he do that? He could have just killed me when he had the chance. I don’t think that’s what it is, I really don’t, Theodore.”

Theodore was quiet for a second. “You’re just going to call me by name now, are you?”

Daniel scowled, colour rising in his face. He wasn’t sure what had compelled him to do that. “You’re just going to mishear me every time I talk now, are you?”

Before either of them could continue with whatever they’d just started, a knock sounded at the door, getting both their attention. It wasn’t Benedict’s crisp, controlled knock. It was a loud banging, the side of a fist. “Who is that, I wonder?” Theodore asked, standing.

Daniel stayed in the bed, looking around for his knives. They would be in the drawer on the other side of the bed though.

Theodore opened the door. “Yes?”

“He’s in there, isn’t he?” Marcus’s voice demanded. “I want to see him.”

“Excuse me? Marcus, return to your…”

“Get the hell out of the way,” Marcus growled, and he pushed—physically pushed—Theodore out of the way, barging into the bedroom. “Daniel!”

“Marcus,” Daniel said, emotion welling up. He slid off the bed as Marcus rushed over, and was near-immediately crushed in a tight hug. “Are you okay?” Daniel asked, hugging back. Marcus was so warm.

“Fine, I’m fine. We’re all fine. You. Are you okay? You disappeared, God, Daniel. Oh, God, Daniel, I thought you were dead, and then…” Marcus broke off, breathing hard as he held Daniel tighter. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“I’m okay,” Daniel promised, a bit strained. “Except I can’t breathe.”

Marcus let him go, laughed a little, nervous. “Sorry. You’re really okay?”

“Really,” Daniel promised. It was so good to see him again. He looked tired. “I’m sorry about pretending to be dead. I know it must have been hard.”

Marcus nodded, still holding Daniel’s hand. “It was hardest on Simon. But…” he glanced over his shoulder, at Theodore. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was,” Daniel said, though it had been Theodore’s idea. “Simon is okay, right? And Hugh?”

“They’re okay. Simon’s scared. Hugh’s worried. Who were those other two? The ones in the hallway…”

“They were murderers,” Theodore told Marcus, coming closer. Marcus glared at him. “They were here to kill me and steal something.”

“They’re slaves,” Daniel said to Marcus, ignoring Theodore for now. “People I knew from before I was sold here. They were only here because someone made them come. They’re not going to come back, Marcus. It’s okay.” He really didn’t think they would. There was no reason for either of them—for any of them—to return to the house now.

Marcus was quiet, looking at Daniel’s hands. “Is that why you’re all so good at fighting like that?” he asked, not looking up. “Hugh and Simon said you killed those guys from before, but I didn’t really believe them until…”

Daniel squeezed two of Marcus’s fingers. “It’s kind of a long story,” Daniel told him. “But I promise I’m not going to hurt you guys, okay? That’s the last thing I’d do.”

“I know that.” Marcus smiled at him, nodding. “I know you wouldn’t, Daniel. Come back with me, come back and see Hugh and Simon. I think they need to see you. I think they’d feel better if they saw you.”

“I want to see them too,” Daniel said, not looking at Theodore.

“You may go,” Theodore said, though Daniel hadn’t asked permission.

“I can?” Daniel hadn’t expected it to be that…easy.

“Yes, that’s what I said. But I’ll want you back here after sundown.”

“Okay.” Daniel took a breath, smiling at Marcus. He looked at Theodore. “Thank you. Master.”

Theodore just nodded, waved them to the door. “We’ll continue our discussion at that time.”

Daniel nodded, and he and Marcus left the room, hand in hand. “What the fuck is going on?” Marcus asked, as they walked back to the room. “I’m glad you’re okay. I’m so glad you’re okay, Daniel, but what the fuck? Nothing’s made any sense since…”

“I know,” Daniel said, squeezing Marcus’s hand. “I’m sorry. I can’t really tell you everything. But I’ll tell you what I can, okay? There were a bunch of people who wanted to kill Theodore. He told me that if I protected him and helped him find them, he’d leave you guys alone. He…he wouldn’t let me see you until I’d done what he said.”

“Asshole,” Marcus growled. “That’s not normally like him. That’s so weird for him.”

“It’s a bit of a weird time,” Daniel agreed, not sure what to feel. “But I’m okay, I promise. It’s going to be okay.”

“Yeah,” Marcus said, nodding. He kept hold of Daniel’s hand. “Yeah, it’s going to be good. It’ll go back to how it was, right?”

No, it wouldn’t. It couldn’t. But Daniel nodded. “Yeah, I hope so.” He wouldn’t let it. Going back to how it was would mean that Theodore would be hurting Simon. Daniel wasn’t going to let that happen.

Marcus nodded firmly, unaware of Daniel’s thoughts, and pulled him to the slaves’ room. There was still some blood on the floor from his fight with Greg, right there outside the door. Daniel looked at it, hoping that Greg and Roderick were okay. Hoping that Darwin hadn’t killed them.

And then he went inside with Marcus, to a quiet room. “Marcus,” Hugh said, obviously concerned. He started towards them, then stopped when he saw Daniel. “Daniel.”

“Hi,” Daniel said, feeling a bit funny suddenly. They were all watching him, all four of them. Simon looked scared. “I’m…sorry I was gone so long.”

“Yeah,” Hugh said, moving forward, then moving back. Then he hugged Daniel, nodding to himself. “Yeah. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I’m glad you are too, Hugh,” Daniel said, hugging back, feeling Hugh’s heartbeat. “Are you? Okay? You and Simon?” He hadn’t seen either of them since the attack on Theodore, when they’d both been in danger. “I know it was frightening, what happened.”

Hugh snorted, letting go of Daniel and stepping back. “Which time? We’re okay. We had each other, and we had Trevor and Al and Marcus.”

They hadn’t needed him, then. Daniel nodded. “I’m glad. I’m really glad.” He felt himself choke a little, and closed his eyes. Marcus’s hand was on his back. When he opened them again, Daniel looked at Simon. “Are you okay?”

Simon nodded. Then shook his head. Then moved closer to Hugh when Daniel took a step forward. Then shook his head again. “No. No, I’m not okay. I…I almost died! Twice, and both times it was because of you.”

“I’m sorry,” Daniel whispered. He knew that. But he’d protected Simon both times. He’d done all he could.

Simon shook his head, clinging to Hugh, who put an arm around him. “He’s okay,” Hugh said. “He’s just scared. Just give him some time.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, looking around. Trevor and Al were just watching him carefully. As if, Daniel realized, to jump on him. If he scared Simon anymore. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Marcus said to Daniel, pulling him into the room and sitting him down. He had a weird look on his face, like he was forcing himself to do something. “It wasn’t your fault. You…you protected us, right?”

It was a genuine question. Marcus was asking. Asking to be reassured. Daniel could barely remember the time when he’d been standoffish and angry. “Yeah,” Daniel said, making himself relax. These were his friends. This was where he wanted to be. “Yeah, I did. I tried to.”

“Tell us,” Marcus prompted, elbowing Daniel like a friend. He sat right beside him, their legs touching. “Tell us what happened. Nobody’s told us anything in forever.”

“Okay,” Daniel said. “I’ll tell you.”

“The truth?” Hugh asked quietly. Pointedly.

Daniel met his eyes, nodded. They deserved the truth. They were his friends, he shouldn’t lie to them. But there was too much to it, to much that if he told them, it wouldn’t be safe. Too much that he couldn’t take back if he let it out. Too much that would just cause them pain if they knew it.

So Daniel nodded. “Yeah,” he lied. “The truth.”

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