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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
With a very special guest star.

Hi, Quen," said Hanna. "Can I come in?"

Quen looked startled to see her. "Uh-- well--"

"Something wrong?" Hanna asked, peering past him into the living room, where Jesse sat on the arm of the couch, facing a stranger who sat primly upright in a straight-backed chair. "Oh, you've got company-- sorry, I won't be long, I just need to drop some stuff off with Jesse."

"Hello, Hanna," the strange woman said, standing up, and Quen backed up resignedly, letting Hanna into the room. The strange woman-- forties or fifties, attractive, blonde, dressed in a high-necked blouse and pencil skirt-- held out her hand, and added, "You're looking very well."

"I'm sorry," said Hanna in some confusion, taking the hand. "Have we met?"

"Twelve years ago," said the woman, smiling a little. "I've got reason to remember." She let go of Hanna's hand and pushed up her sleeve slightly to show a faint, raised scar between her wrist and elbow, in the shape of a twin crescent.

Hanna blinked twice, and then said, "Mrs. Larssen?"

"Alix Jamesen," said the woman equably. "Call me Alix. But yes, my husband is Holden Larssen."

"Oh," said Hanna, still blinking rapidly as she took this in. "Uh. Hi again. Sorry to leave a mark."

"I scar easily," said Alix Jamesen. "Naturally thin skin. Don't worry about it."

"Whoa!" said Jesse, craning his neck to see the scar, which Alix was already covering with her long sleeve. "Go, Hanna!"

Alix turned her head and grinned at him. "It's probably a good thing we took the precaution of removing your teeth."

"Dumb of you to put them back, though," Jesse noted, grinning back.

"Sit down, you two," said Quen. "Actually, it's good you're here, Hanna. Alix was just saying she'd like to talk to you."

Hanna and Alix both sat down, Alix on the chair, Hanna on the couch next to Jesse, who punched her on the shoulder in greeting. Hanna was too bewildered to punch back as Quen sat down on her other side; she just stared at Alix.

"What are you doing here?" she asked finally.

"I'm visiting an old friend," Alix answered. "Tatiana Rostova. But this city was on my way, and I wanted to stop by and check something. About Gwen."

"What?" Hanna stiffened, alert again. "What do you want with Gwen?"

"Nothing that should alarm you," said Alix. "At least, I don't think so. But I would like your advice. I understand she's currently a charge of yours."

"You would put it like that," said Hanna; anger was coming back to her now, all the rage she'd ever felt while a helpless prisoner at the mercy of her master-- and mistress. "That's how slave owners think. Gwen is a grown woman. She's not anybody's charge. I'm her counselor. She's my client."

"All right," said Alix, inclining her head slightly. "I apologize for my poor choice of words."

"Anyway," said Hanna, "considering she is a grown woman, and a free grown woman, I don't see what my client has to do with you. Just because you had a slave named Gwen for about five minutes once doesn't mean that Gwen Ellisen is any of your damn business."

"True enough," said Alix. "But you surely don't think I'm planning to try to enforce some imaginary property rights over her. I'm not even her legal owner at home, let alone in a country where slavery is illegal-- and if I were here to kidnap her and re-enslave her, do you think I'd be sitting in Quen and Jesse's living room?"

Hanna peered at her. "Not if they knew you were planning it."

"How stupid do you think I am?" Jesse demanded.

"Have I not made that clear on multiple occasions?"

"Come on, Hanna," said Quen quietly. "You're not being rational. Alix helped get us out, remember. She's not here to grab Gwen. She just wants to talk to her."

Hanna looked at Alix.

"And only if those better acquainted with her current situation consider it in her best interests," said Alix, "which is why I am in Quen and Jesse's living room-- and why I wanted to talk to you."

"Hanna, let me get you some coffee," said Quen, standing up. "More, Alix?"

"Thank you, dear," said Alix, lifting a cup from the coffee table and handing it to Quen, who left with it for the kitchen. "Hanna-- I'm sorry, may I call you Hanna?"

"I suppose," said Hanna grudgingly.

"Thank you," said Alix. "Would you be willing to give me your advice on a matter pertaining to Gwen?"

"I'm not sure," said Hanna.

Alix nodded. "May I describe the situation?"

Hanna squinted at her.

"Don't be a jackass, Hanna," said Jesse lazily. "Let the lady talk."

"Fine," said Hanna.

She didn't speak graciously, but Alix didn't seem to take offense; she leaned forward slightly as she began, looking earnestly at Hanna.

"My husband and I are currently pursuing a court case," she said, "against Gwen's former owner, Mikhail Dunaev. We are pressing charges for, among other things, the attempted murder of one of our slaves."

"Which one?" Hanna asked curiously.

"Neither of the ones you knew," said Alix. "His name is Jer. An old friend, from when Holden and I were slaves together-- we finally have him with us. And--"

"You have him with you?" Hanna demanded. "You mean you keep him as a slave, right? Your old friend?"

She infused the words with as much contempt as she could, but she was still surprised when Alix flushed and glanced quickly down and away.

"You're right," she said to her hands. "No, of course you're right. We're-- we're recognizing-- now-- that we've been-- well, misguided, in some ways. Recent events have, um--" She looked up again quickly, as if reminding herself who Hanna was. "But that's not the issue. "

"Right," said Hanna, as Quen came back in and handed her a cup of coffee; she took it in both hands. Quen offered Alix a second cup, which she accepted and sipped delicately while Hanna went on, "The point is, killing a slave isn't murder. It's destruction of property."

Alix arched a dark, well-groomed eyebrow. "You and I both have reason to disagree."

"You know what I mean," said Hanna, glancing at Quen, who'd sat back down next to her, but was saying nothing. Jesse, too, was uncharacteristically silent. "Under the law."

"Laws are often wrong," said Alix, "and when they are, they can sometimes be changed. We are working to set a precedent for this case. To treat, among other things, the willful destruction of a slave as murder. We currently own two slaves who can give accounts of how Lord Dunaev systematically brutalized his own slaves. That's where Gwen would come in."

"You want her to testify?"

"Here," said Alix, swiftly. "In safety. In Arcadia. With a tape recorder. We'd probably enter it as material evidence, not testimony per se. They can't touch her--"

"You idiot," said Hanna. "You think this Dunaev of yours wouldn't track her down and wring her neck?"

Alix shook her head-- she didn't seem to take offense easily. "Get acquitted, and then travel to another country and seek Gwen out just to court prison again for murdering a free woman? He's not that crazy."

"He's crazier than owl shit," said Hanna. "There's no telling what he might do."

"How do you know?" Alix asked. "Did Gwen tell you that?"

"No," said Hanna. "You did. You said he tried to kill one of Larssen's slaves. I threatened that too once-- when I was looking to die."

Jesse laughed. "She's got you there, Jamesen. The weirdest thing about this whole story is that Dunaev got anywhere close to Jer without Larssen ripping his head off."

"It all happened a bit quickly," said Alix, sounding amused. "But-- yes, I agree that attacking Jer in front of Holden, not to mention an assembled press corps, wasn't the action of an entirely rational man. So, Hanna, you're saying no. That you feel it's not in Gwen's best interest to participate."

"I'm not her owner," said Hanna. "I don't speak for her. But speaking as a counselor and a person with a modicum of sense, yes, I think it's a completely terrible idea. Gwen is safe now. She's off everybody's radar. I don't think you should drag her back into the game."

"She might think differently," said Alix. "But then, you'd know that better than I would. I never even met her. I was in the hospital with Jer the whole time Holden had custody of her, and I didn't get home until after she'd been stolen."

"If you're calling the attack on Jer attempted murder," Hanna pointed out acerbically, "shouldn't you call what happened to Gwen kidnapping, not theft?"

"You're absolutely right," said Alix again, smiling imperturbably at Hanna-- the same expression that had so often enraged her on Larssen's face-- though the flush, of anger or embarrassment or both, was still high in her cheeks. "I'm caught in this odd-- I suppose you'd call it a transitional period, though that particular phrase has a bit of an ominous ring to me. But perhaps it should. Change is always alarming, even when it's for the better. You see, Holden and I are planning on freeing all our slaves."

Hanna blinked at Alix, then looked at Jesse and Quen; this seemed to come as news to neither of them. She looked at Alix again, and sipped her coffee before she said, "Well. Took you long enough. Are they here?"

"No," said Alix. "We aren't bringing them here. We're setting them free there."


"When we've worked out the details," said Alix.

"What details?" Hanna asked. "What's to work out? Sounds to me like you're stalling."

"There are plenty of details," said Alix. "You of all people know that. And if we are stalling, a little, then Holden and I aren't the only ones. Hanna-- you understand, you must, that not all slaves are-- the way you were. Some feel-- genuine affection-- for their owners. And would, even if they weren't owned."

"Right," said Hanna. "It's called brainwashing. We offer counseling, to help. But I understand-- you'd rather keep them under your thumb while you pat yourselves on the back for being such great humanitarians as to set them free."

"Hanna, I'm not sure why-- no, that's not true," Alix interrupted herself. "Of course I know why you're being so hostile towards me. But I'd like to ask you to put aside any personal feelings you may have about myself or my husband for the moment and speak as a fellow professional and fellow adult."

"What do you think I'm speaking as?"

"As a woman with a grudge," said Alix.

Hanna shook her head. "It's not a grudge."

"With a burden, then," said Alix.

Hanna said nothing. Alix met her gaze, with thoughtful greenish eyes; Hanna looked down into her coffee.

"Hanna," said Jesse, his voice gentler than usual. "I know what you mean, okay, but they're not wrong, the way they're doing this."

"Oh," said Hanna, "well, as long as they have your seal of approval, oh all-enlightened one."

Alix laughed, and Hanna looked back up at her in surprise.

"I'm sorry," said Alix, smiling a little. "I just-- I can see why he liked you so much."

Hanna blinked, startled. "What?"

"My husband," Alix explained. "You must realize he was completely fascinated by you. Yves and I were terribly jealous."

"Funny," said Hanna without smiling.

"I'm not joking," said Alix. "What time he didn't spend with you-- which wasn't much-- he spent talking about you. Quoting you. And after you were gone, he mooned and moped around for weeks. He kept hoping you'd call. Tell him you'd made it."

"Poor Larssen," said Jesse. "Too bad you couldn't bring yourself to throw him a mercy fuck before you took off, Hanna. Get you out of his system."

"Don't be disgusting," said Hanna.

Jesse stretched and grinned. "As Yves once said to me on a similar subject-- don't knock it till you try it."

"Guys," said Quen plaintively. "His wife is sitting right here."

"It's all right," said Alix, and smiled again, as if at some private joke, then sobered. "Except that we've wandered a bit from the subject. To come to the point, Hanna-- if you advise me not to try to contact Gwen, I'll take your advice."

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable being in that position," said Hanna. "I don't control access to Gwen. It's not my right to say no to you for her. I'll ask her."

"Thank you," said Alix.

"Where are you staying?" Hanna asked. "So I can contact you, once I've spoken with her."

"I don't really know," said Alix. "If Gwen agrees to speak with me, I'll probably book a hotel. Otherwise, I'll sleep on the train into Pearlsham. That's where Tatiana lives."

"Stay with me," said Hanna, and was immediately as surprised as Alix looked. "I mean, if you like. It's not much, but it should be more comfortable than the train."

"I don't want to impose," said Alix doubtfully.

Hanna shrugged. "I invited you. Nobody twisted my arm. Take it or leave it."

"When you put it so graciously," said Alix, "how can I refuse?"

Jesse and Quen laughed, and Hanna and Alix both smiled as Alix added, "Thank you."

"Why didn't he come?" Hanna asked suddenly, as Alix made as if to rise. "Why you?"

"He's busy," said Alix, smoothing her skirt down again. "Bran and Yves and Jer are all having their own personal crises about their impending freedom-- and he's got other things to tend to, as well. We thought it would be better."

"What about what's-her-name?" Hanna asked. "I can't remember her name. The redhead."

"Greta's all right," said Alix. "I knew her before she was a slave, you know-- just a little before-- but it makes a difference. And it's always been-- calmer-- with her and me. She's not afraid. She's just-- waiting."

"Does she love you?" Hanna was surprised by the venom in her own voice.

"Yes," said Alix, and then, "I hope so. I guess-- I'm about to find out."
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