It was incredibly surreal for Amadhay to wake up in bed with three Palnoki members.
On the plus side, at least this time she remembered what had led to her waking up cuddled up with them, unlike when she had woken up with Atlas.
After Ribbon and Tensh—Tanhakinshu had found her, freezing but still functional, they had immediately taken her inside, to Nico and Kimiko, who had been sitting in front of a fireplace that Amadhay hadn’t noticed on her tour of the building. Kimiko had been a blubbering mess, apologizing for leaving her alone in the snow. Nico had silently removed himself from the entire situation as soon as he had been sure that she was alive and going to survive. Tanhakinshu and Ribbon had, as if they hadn’t even had that fight outside, worked together to do everything in their power to keep Amadhay from getting frostbite or any other nasty cold related problems.
She hadn’t said much, choosing instead to spend all her energy on getting and staying warm. They had stripped her of her cold, soaking clothes and Ribbon had redressed her, after Kimiko’s complaint against Tenshu seeing Amadhay’s naked body. Once she was all toasty and warm, they had coaxed her to eat something and given her medicine to ward off colds. Once all that was done, they had put her in bed and crawled in with her. She wasn’t sure if it was guilt, worry, or simple exhaustion that had landed them in her bed, but she was sure that whatever the reason was, they were there for her.
She was also completely positive that Ribbon had not put the wards back up on her room.
So with that in mind, she had easily made her way out of the bed, taking care not to wake the other three. She honestly wasn’t sure if she didn’t want to wake them because she wanted to sneak out or because she genuinely thought they needed sleep. The previous day had been a lot more stressful for them than for her. She hadn’t really been close to death. Close to being really cold? Yes. Close to freezing to death? Hardly. It had actually become warmer as it got later, which she didn’t understand, but had decided not to question either.
She might not be any closer to leaving, but she now knew one way she wasn’t leaving, and that was through all the snow by foot. They had been right when they had told her it was nearly impossible for her to escape with all the snow around and honestly, she wasn’t all that sure that escaping was high on her list of things most important to her at that point in time.
Maybe it was a silly, sentimental part of her speaking, the part that had always wanted Arne Riff’s fatherly approval and a sort of companionship with her sisters, but it had been nice to have been so completely taken care of, especially since it had all been her own stupid fault. While she would never say that Benjy and Christein didn’t care for her, she could honestly say that she doubted they would have pampered her as much as these three people she hardly knew had. In fact, she had a feeling that, for some reason she didn’t understand, these people would have done everything in their power to fix her if she had truly been hurt. Which was more than she could say for anyone else in her life, aside from Rea, whose job it was to fix her.
She was at the point where she had to call Ribbon her friend. Ten—Tanhakinshu was still up in the air and so was Kimiko, but they were on the fast track. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about the rest of the Palnoki. She wasn’t sure, especially, of how she felt about Atlas. But those three, those three she could honestly say she trusted. While yes, they were worried about how Atlas would react to her getting away or dying, there had also been genuine worry about her. They didn’t know her as an asset. They really just knew her as, well, Amadhay. That was nice.
That was what she was thinking about as she just wandered the Palnokian halls, not really paying attention to where she was going. She was aware that she should still be looking for a way out, but she wasn’t. She felt a bit like it would be wrong to take advantage of Ribbon’s mistake, especially after how they had taken care of her. Though, of course, it was really their fault that she had ended up needing to be cared for. She was being held captive, and sometimes with Ribbon she forgot that, but that didn’t change the fact that she had been abducted. If Atlas hadn’t abducted her, she wouldn’t have gone out in the snow to try to escape.
So, as nice as the three of them had been, they were still the enemy. Ribbon was still her prison guard. Tanhakinshu had still killed Benjy. And, while, she didn’t have anything particular against Kimiko, the girl was a part of the Palnoki, which meant that she had done something, at some point, to make Amadhay’s life harder. They all had. Making sure she didn’t get frostbite, keeping her warm and feeding her soup didn’t change anything. Ribbon had been stupid to leave the wards down.
Finally, she stopped in front of a window, looking out at the leagues of snow. In that instant, she made up her mind to scope out the building and find a way out. She went through the same halls that Ribbon had shown her the previous day, recognizing different pieces of art or oddly colored doors and walls. She knew the way to Kimiko’s room, which was likely to be unlocked, since Kimiko was in her bed. She planned to get weapons and break herself out.
Somehow, though, she still found herself outside of the same room in which she had met with Atlas that first day she had been there. It was quite a distance from her intended target. When she started to move away from it, reminding herself of her plan, she heard voices.
Her automatic instinct was to eavesdrop, to see if anything was being said that she could use at a later time, or if, more specifically, anything was being said about her. As far as she could tell, there wasn’t. She could hear Atlas’ dulcet tones against Stefan’s partially hissed words and Johannes’ louder voice, but none of it sounded all that important, at least not to her. She really had no reason to care about the Snow King Petri, considering it wasn’t a title or name she recognized, which meant that he wasn’t Roadesian.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open. She didn’t even really understand why she did that. She could have just gone on her way. They didn’t know that she was free. There was no need to get their attention, but for some reason, she did. She wanted their attention, wanted to bring to their attention that she was free, could have killed them all, and yet hadn’t.
Immediately, all conversation ceased and all eyes were on her. The initial reaction was surprise. She saw it on all three faces, which she wouldn’t lie, she enjoyed. She loved surprising Atlas, especially since he always seemed to be in charge of everything, to be orchestrating everything. She loved knowing that she knew something he didn’t, that she was the one controlling things for even the shortest moment.
After surprise, the automatic reaction was defensive. Both Stefan and Johannes moved in front of Atlas protectively, which was ridiculous considering she was very visibly unarmed and they all knew she couldn’t kill him. She held up her hands to either side of her head, fingers splayed out to show that she wasn’t holding anything or hiding anything, only wearing an oversized sweatshirt over a fitted sweater and baggy, incredibly long sweatpants (she had a feeling that they were Atlas’) over top two pairs of socks.
“I’m not here to hurt anyone,” she said, shrugging and looking directly at Atlas, who was watching her curiously with a small frown, as if he couldn’t understand something.
“What have you done to Ribbon?” Atlas asked.
“She’s sleeping. She was tired. We all fell asleep in my bed. We had a long day yesterday, so Tenshu, Kimiko, and Ribbon are still asleep in my bed. You can go check if you don’t believe me.”
Atlas nodded at Stefan, who quickly left the room to, Amadhay assumed, check to see if the three were actually sleeping in her bed and not dead.
“I just want to talk to you,” she said to Atlas, holding eye contact. “I’ve been thinking a lot.”
“How did you get out of the room?” Atlas asked, looking at her as if she hadn’t said anything.
Not wanting to throw Ribbon under the train, she shrugged. “I’ve been watching Ribbon and Tenshu,” she bluffed. Atlas smiled an impressed smile this time, relaxing back into his seat on a cream-colored loveseat.
“And what did you want to talk about?” he asked, gesturing for Johannes to stand down. She ignored him.
“Stuff,” Amadhay said awkwardly, moving from the doorway, further into the room. Keeping an eye on Johannes, she got as close to Atlas as she dared, seating herself across from him in a chair.
“Stuff such as?” Atlas asked, amusement coloring his tone.
“I…,” she paused when Stefan came back into the room.
Atlas looked expectantly to him and Stefan glanced curiously at Amadhay before nodding at Atlas. “She didn’t do anything to them. The wards are down, but they’re just sleeping. It’s a natural sleep.” He moved back to sit near Atlas, in the seat he had vacated when Amadhay entered. Johannes didn’t move, still guarding Atlas from Amadhay. The pure venom in the cyborg’s eyes made Amadhay uncomfortable, in fact, she was considering leaving.
“Well? What are you wanting to talk about?” Atlas asked again when Amadhay didn’t say anything.
“Oh, right,” she looked back at him instead of Johannes. He still looked curiously amused. That’s always a good expression for him, she decided. “I want you to answer some questions I have.”
Atlas grinned. “You know I’m not going to promise to answer them.”
“Yes, that I do definitely know,” she replied, frowning as she looked at her knees instead of him. “I just. I really need to know these answers so that I can make decisions,” she explained before deciding to chance looking at him again.
The amusement was less prevalent in his expression now, though the curiosity was still there. “What kind of decisions?”
“I’m the one asking questions,” she reproached him. In response, he dipped his head in an apologetic acknowledgement, which also served as a nod to tell her to go ahead.
“Why am I here?” she asked, starting with the most important question. When he opened his mouth, she held her hand up for a moment. “And don’t give me your ‘You can figure it out on your own’ nonsense. I just want a real answer this time.”
Atlas tilted his head for a moment, watching her, before he nodded. “You are here because I brought you here.” This time he held up his hand when Amadhay opened her mouth to say something. “And I brought you here because Benjym Base chose his alliances incorrectly. If he had done as I had told him, if he had taken you to safety instead of standing against me, you would still be there. You are not, because you intrigue me. You intrigue me and it pained me to see someone as exquisite as yourself being ruined by that place. You are here because I think you are too important to be left somewhere that you will only ever be an asset, rather than the person I can see every time I look at you.”
Amadhay shook her head. “Cut the flowers. Why am I here?”
“You are here because I want you to be. I knew from the moment I saw you as a child that you were born to be someone incredibly special and I don’t see that happening so long as your horizons were never broadened.”
“So my horizons will be broadened by not being the Phoegani’s asset, but the Palnoki’s instead?”
Atlas raised his eyebrows. “I don’t believe I ever implied that I was recruiting you.”
She jolted back. “Aren’t you?”
“No, I most definitely am not. As an assassin, you are incredibly wasted. You were meant for much more than that. You are a lady, Amadhay, not a commoner. There is no reason for you to be used for such base reasons. You’re far too precious to be used as you are.”
“Then what do you want from me?” she stressed.
Amadhay gave him a look to say that she didn’t believe him. When he raised his eyebrows at her, she rolled her eyes and looked to Stefan and then Johannes. The cyborg had a decidedly uncomfortable expression that Amadhay didn’t understand, while Stefan’s face was carefully blank, neither giving her any ideas.
“Everyone wants something. If you didn’t want anything, you wouldn’t have brought me here,” Amadhay argued, crossing her legs and sitting forward in the seat. “So what do you, Atlas Palnoki, want from me, Amadhay Hakinato, that led to you bringing me here?”
Atlas slowly, slightly shook his head at her, giving her a sad smile. “I only want to allow you to make your own choices.”
“Fine,” Amadhay said, “Then I choose to go back home.”
“Choices that are good for you,” he stressed.
“Choices that are good for you, you mean,” Amadhay countered.
He was silent for a moment, watching her. He laced his fingers together and tapped his lips with one pointer finger for a moment before speaking again. “If you go back to the Phoegani, what do you have left?”
Amadhay frowned, giving him a questioning look. “What do you mean?”
“What do you have left? You go back and what is left there for you? Do you really want to spend the rest of your life, killing for a goal you don’t understand, for men that don’t care about you as a person but only an asset? Can you really go back, knowing that Benjym Base chose the Phoegani over you? That Christein Hakinato wasn’t able to help you when you needed it? I walked right past him with you in my arms and he did nothing. No one has been looking for you, Amadhay. It has been 21 days and no one has so much as attempted negotiations to get you back. Do you really want to go back somewhere that you aren’t appreciated as much as you could be?”
Instead of answering his questions, Amadhay asked one of her own. “What do I have if I stay here? I belong there. Here, I’m nothing but a captive. Do I really seem so fickle to you that I would just change allegiance? Do you really think me so weak that I need saving? Am I just some prize you won off of Lord Phoeganis? Is that what this really is?”
“No,” Atlas responded vehemently, leaning forward. He dropped his hands to his knees and Amadhay could see that he wanted to reach out to her. He didn’t. “You have never been just a prize.”
“Then what am I?” she demanded, “Why am I here, Atlas?” she yelled.
“You are here because I want you to be!” he yelled back. Sensing that she had finally broken through to him, she pushed some more.
“What if I don’t want to be?” she demanded.
Atlas was silent for a long moment, simply staring at her. Unlike before, when she had been sure he had been evaluating her, trying to decipher some unknown code, this time he was simply staring at her, sadness all over his face. He shook his head slowly until he closed his eyes. He turned his head away from her and, with his eyes still closed, he said the last thing she had honestly expected to come from his lips.
“Then I will take you back.”