The punching bag swung back with the first blow Kyr landed on it, the chains securing it to the ceiling rattling with the movement. He caught it again when it swung back, throwing short hard punches at first and then moving around when the bag began to twist. Sweat slid down his back and itched under the wraps supporting his hands and wrists, and he flicked his head to get sweaty hair out of his eyes. The gym was quiet at this time of day, just after lunch, and he liked it that way, without anyone to look at him and whisper.
He’d had to nearly beg for two days just to be allowed to go to the gym unsupervised, and his father had only agreed because Kyr was distracting him from soothing ruffled feathers and re-opening Oakenheart. He’d been dropped off at the gym under strict instructions not to go anywhere else, and that he would be picked up in two hours. Just before driving away, his father had given him the serious look he’d always hated and made him promise to behave. He’d promised, and flipped his middle finger up at the back of the car as it drove off.
He had two very good reasons for going to the gym; first, because he desperately needed some way to release tension, and running around his father’s property in the snow wasn’t enough; and second, because the gym had pay phones down a long hallway that offered as much privacy as possible in a public area. Stepping back from the bag—breathing hard but feeling better despite the ache in his shoulders—he glanced around to make sure nobody was watching him, then draped a towel around his neck and headed for the phones, digging through the pocket of his shorts for his wallet and the change inside it.
The phone rang so many times that he was almost on the verge of hanging up when a familiar voice answered with a quiet hello.
“Mrs. Yorke?” He hesitated, suddenly thinking that she might not even want to hear from him, but her voice warmed almost instantly.
“Kyr, I’m glad to hear from you. How are you?”
“I’m doing okay.” He twisted the cord around his arm so he could lean his back on the wall and keep an eye on the hallway. “Calling you from a pay phone ‘cause it probably wouldn’t look good to have a call to Arian Mawr show up on my phone bill. Have you... Did Solo come home?”
“No.” In just that one word she sounded tired and old. “We’ve waited, but... The news reports say he must have been picked up by someone, but he hasn’t come home.”
“He will. Or I’ll find him.” Kyr stiffened at movement down the hall then relaxed when he saw it was only somebody crossing to the locker rooms. “I’ll let you know if I find out anything. And when I’m free, when they acquit me, I’ll come visit.”
“You’re a good kid, Kyr.” She still sounded tired and he gripped the phone tighter, feeling a bright flash of hate for everyone who made her sound like that. “Take care of yourself. We’ll look forward to your visit.”
“I promise I’ll find him. I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you again, okay?”
“All right. Goodbye, Kyr.”
“Bye.” He hung the phone up carefully and went back into the gym to pound on the punching bag again until the tightness in his chest eased.
He was showered and waiting on a bench in the front area of the gym when his father showed up, half an hour late. Neither of them spoke on the way out to the car, but out of the corner of his eye Kyr saw the tightness to his mouth and the angry motions he made sorting through his keyring to find the car keys. He started to open his mouth to ask what was wrong then shut it again; he already knew what was wrong, and the last thing he wanted was to provoke his father into a rant. Rants like that usually ended in Kyr taking all the blame.
“Fuckers actually think I knew,” his father snapped halfway home, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Because you were such good friends with him.”
“Did you tell them this is the longest amount of time we’ve spent together since I was eleven?”
“Shut up, Kyrianos. You’re half the trouble here.”
“Oh, yeah, ‘cause cops coming out of nowhere to shoot my b—to shoot my friend was a great idea. They fucked it up and fucked it up good, but hey, why not arrest me instead.”
“He made an aggressive movement—”
“The fuck he did. I was there, remember? All we were doing was walking and then bam, Solo’s down on his knees with a bloody shoulder and all I know is we’re being attacked. Right after all that hype about the Fae army coming this way. What the fuck did they think would happen?”
“Save it for the judge,” his father said after a moment. “He’s the one you need to convince.”
“Fuck you too.”
His father’s lips firmed together into a line so narrow his mouth nearly disappeared, but he said nothing in return and silence settled over the car for the rest of the drive back to the house. Kyr got out as soon as the car stopped, swinging his backpack over his shoulder, and stomped into the house, kicking his boots off onto the rubber mat and leaving them there flopped over just to piss Magdalin off when she came in. He went straight up to his room and sprawled out on his bed, lacing his fingers over his belly and staring up at the ceiling until the rage cooled.
He dozed off after a while and dreamed of somewhere cold, where the snow was deeper than he was tall, though he was warm enough with a blanket wrapped around him. He sensed that he was moving and guessed he was in the back of some vehicle, only half-awake. Something moved beside him and he was almost able to turn and look, to see where he was, then his stepmother’s voice brought him grudgingly up into consciousness. He went out to the top of the stairs to see what she was yelling about, leaning on the banister and covering a yawn with one hand.
“Clean up your mess,” she snapped up at him from the bottom of the stairs, gesturing towards the boot mat by the front door.
“Isn’t that what we have maids for?” he asked innocently.
“I can still kick you out, Kyrianos.” Even with the distance between them, he could see a muscle under her eye twitch. “Try and defend yourself while you’re living on the street.”
“Do it.” He spread his arms in a go-for-it gesture. “Put your money where your mouth is.”
Her eyes narrowed then she spun on her heel and stalked back down the hall, calling his father’s name. Kyr waited, crossing his arms over his chest, and listened to their footsteps come back towards the stairs.
“Nobody is kicking anyone out,” his father was saying. When he looked up, his mouth was set angrily but his eyes were tired. “Kyrianos, stop baiting your mother.”
“She’s not my fucking mother. She never even wanted to be. She wanted to be a trophy wife and maybe pop out a baby or two to keep her claws in you. So fine, you’ve got Marigold, and I’m just here til either I get off these fucking charges or I get thrown in jail. Happy?” He didn’t give them a chance to answer before he went back to his room and slammed the door hard enough to make the window rattle.
He didn’t expect anyone to come up and talk to him, and wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t. Closing his eyes, he tried to doze off but sleep refused to come, and after an hour of tossing and turning, he got up again and carefully opened his door. He thought he could hear music towards the back of the house—Magdalin soothing her nerves with some gin and classical music—but otherwise the house seemed quiet. Grabbing his keys, he snuck downstairs to get his boots and coat, then went out for a walk.
Dinner that night was eaten in cold silence except for the occasional request to pass a condiment, and Kyr left the table as soon as he was done, leaving half his plate behind. He went to bed early and dreamed of nothing at all, and dragged himself out of bed at the sound of his alarm clock to have a shower and dress neatly for his pre-trial hearing in front of a judge who happened to be a friend of his father’s. The hearing was held in the judge’s richly decorated chambers and Kyr sat quietly as his lawyer argued against the city lawyer, trying not to let his eyes glaze over.
In the end it came down to the fact that the police had fired without warning or identifying themselves, endangering not only themselves but the entire school on the basis of an anonymous tip. The city’s lawyer tried to argue that Solan had made an aggressive move, and that he had been proven to actually be Fae, but the judge dismissed his arguments and Kyr walked out of chambers numb but free.
His lawyer—a man whose name he hadn’t even bothered to find out yet—shook his hand and congratulated him, and Kyr managed a smile that didn’t feel entirely fake. His father took all three of them out to lunch, ordering enough whiskey with the meal that he was tipsy by the time he had to pay the cheque. Kyr himself drank little, still trying to adjust to the fact that the charges had been dropped so easily; father’s friend or not, he had expected the judge to take one look at him and order him back to jail. He shook the lawyer’s hand again when the little party broke up and let his father lean on him for the walk out to the car, taking the car keys and settling into the driver’s seat himself for the trip home.
“Well?” Magdalin asked as soon as they walked through the front door.
“Not going to jail just yet,” Kyr said. “Don’t be too sad. I’m out of here by dark.”
“Kyr, grow up,” his father said. “We’ve already got one child in the house. We don’t need another.”
“Which is why I’m fucking leaving. I’ve got the money Mom left me. I’ll use some of it to buy a new car and save the rest.” He looked between them, his father still weaving a little on his feet, his stepmother standing with her arms crossed and her head held high like a horse. “I’ll take most of my stuff, you guys can do whatever you want with the rest. Maybe I’ll visit.” He didn’t mean the last to sound like a question, but his voice rose a little at the end, almost asking permission.
“Yes, visit.” His father nodded slowly and Kyr saw that the alcohol had finished settling in. “Maybe that would be best.”
“Worked for the past eight years.” He walked past Magdalin, who refused to look at him, and went upstairs to pack.
He took the bus into town and look for something cheap and sturdy, eventually finding it parked in the driveway of a young woman who agreed to knock part of the price off in exchange for him taking it right then and there. He paid her with a cheque and gave her his phone number when she asked for it in case his cheque bounced, amused at her wariness. Sliding into the front seat, he spent a few moments adjusting everything to his liking while she told him about the mileage it got, then backed down the driveway, giving her a little wave when he turned onto the road.
He went back to the house just long enough to pack his bags into the trunk and try to say goodbye to Marigold at least, even though she was more interested in the cartoon she was watching on TV. He ruffled her hair, told her to behave, and filled a bag with food from the kitchen before walking out the door for the last time. He paused on the walk to look up at it, then resolutely turned his back and headed to his new car.
There was still police tape around the area where Solan had gone off the road when he got there the next day, though his car had been hauled away and the reporters had wandered off to find some other news story. He wondered if they’d even report the charges being dismissed against him and decided that if they did, it would be a small story just before the sports. He parked his car just beyond the caution tape and got out, taking a deep breath of cold air before ducking under the tape and following the trampled path into the trees.
It had snowed the night before, while he was lying awake in a motel room and desperately wishing Solan was beside him, but the blood splatters on some of the trees and in the snow underfoot were still mostly visible. He walked carefully along the path until he came to where the blood ended, where the snow had been tramped down until it was almost ice, and looked at the area for a long moment before stepping carefully past and examining the other tracks.
The police and reporters—and probably a few rubberneckers—had mostly obliterated the other tracks, but he found an area a little further on where the tracks were clear enough for him to make out two separate sets of footprints and the long sliding tracks of a sleigh. Both sets of footprints were bigger than his, the little diamond patterns on the soles telling him they were probably made by heavy-duty winter boots. He tried to follow them further but soon lost them in the mess of another path leading through the woods, and turned back towards his car when he got too cold to keep going.
He turned on the heater in the car and sat for a few minutes, trying to think. His best guess was that whoever had taken Solan was headed mostly north, and that they probably weren’t human, or they would have turned him in already. That made him think of the wild Fae that Solan had said were hiding up north in the mountains and he wondered if any of them had come down here, maybe to look around or maybe to see how their more civilized cousins were handling the current war.
“Or it was other Fae,” he said out loud. “He can’t have been the only one hiding in plain sight. Or even humans who were sympathetic.”
The sound of his own voice was lonely and he shivered, then pulled his seatbelt on and eased the car back onto the road. He stopped at the nearest gas station to fill his tank and buy a map, then sat in the front seat with a cheeseburger and a pen, marking out northern towns with one between bites of the other. When he was done, he started driving again, making it to the first town on his list by nightfall and taking a room in another motel.
He meant to go down for dinner and ask around a bit to see if anyone might have seen Solan and his mysterious benefactors—or captors—but instead he lay down to rest his eyes and ended up falling deeply asleep. In his dream he stood facing a giant buck with great spreading antlers, both of them breathing white steam out into the cold air. The buck ducked its head and pawed at the snow crust with one sharp hoof, breaking through it and into the fluffier snow beneath. Kyr sensed it wanted to go past him and crossed his arms over his chest, settling his stance wider to block it, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. The sun drifted out from behind a bank of clouds and shone on the sharp tines of the buck’s antlers, but as it faded back into the clouds, the buck snorted and turned away, pacing majestically out of sight.
When he woke to the morning sun shining through the room’s window, he found he’d taken Solan’s cuff off his ear during the night and curled his fingers around it, holding that hand cradled in against his chest.