Addergoole
Chapter 32: Kailani
Il a l'air d'hésiter entre une histoire d'amour ou d'ami
Et je suis comme une île en plein océan

The knock at the door didn’t wake Kailani; she’d been up for hours, going over her notes from the night before, trying to determine exactly what she’d gotten herself into, and what she was going to do about it, staring at the blank walls of her room and missing the sunrise horribly.

Mabina and Cassidy had offered to let her stay the night in the suite; they’d seemed to expect that she’d move in. After all, as Conrad had pointed out, everything that was his was hers now. But she wasn’t going to sleep in the same bed as him, and she wasn’t going to kick him out of his bed, so she’d come back here, where it almost felt like home.

After three hours awake, though, she felt no closer to an answer, frustrated, hungry, and irritable. Dealing with people was far more complex than even the broader problem of the Addergoole School, what it was, what its inhabitants were, and why they were all here; people changed their variables randomly and for no predictable reason. She’d never expected Taro to get rough and mean with her, although, she thought, ruefully rubbing the bruises he’d left on her arms, if she’d paid any heed to her mother, she would have.

And Conrad… was probably knocking at her door. She should have expected him, too, to be sneaky and underhanded, although, at the very least, as she understood it, he’d have a hard time hurting her, at least.

Small blessings. She rubbed her bruises again, wondering what kind of school taught women to be afraid of the men around them.

Another knock at the door, and she realized she was sitting here thinking about him while he was probably waiting impatiently outside. Perhaps she should let him in, to better actually get answers out of him?

Some small petty part of her, still angry at him for extorting his way into being Owned by her, wanted to keep him waiting outside, but that seemed both cruel and not altogether safe. The hallways no longer seemed innocuous, and Mabina had been very clear about the double meaning of ownership, that “belonging” and “responsibility” were, in the Old Tongue (which bore far more study), variations of the same word. Conrad’s well-being was her responsibility now.

He’s a lot bigger than a gerbil. And, presumably, he could feed himself and take care of his own messes.

“I’m not changing your wood shavings,” she told him as she opened the door.

If she hadn’t been so annoyed at him, she probably would have found the befuddled look on his face funny – at least until it shifted into something nervous and uncertain, an expression he’d worn for most of yesterday evening. “Okay?”

“Come in,” she offered, frowning at him. Somehow he made her feel guilty about this, about the collar around his neck now and everything they were both learning that it meant, and that, in turn, made her angry. Why should she feel guilty? He’d offered himself up to her.

He’d sold himself into slavery for information. But that wasn’t right either; he’d sold himself, but she was the one that benefited. What was he getting out of this?

His shoulders were hunched forward, his hands clenched on the handle of a small Igloo cooler. He wasn’t looking at her. His expression looked more constipated than angry, though.

“I brought breakfast,” he said, looking up at her with a shadow of his normal smile. “I thought maybe…” He trailed off, frowning, and looked back at the floor, but his hands were twitching on the handle of the cooler.

It depends on the bond, ‘Lisha had said. I have friends who… She’d hesitated, and glanced over at Vlad with something that could possibly have been affection, although Kai couldn’t quite tell. …were more in love with their Keeper when they started. They have a hard time being away from their Keeper for long. They like being able to touch, to be touched, as much as possible.

Like cats, she’d said.

Yeah, Vlad had agreed, smiling lightly at ‘Lisha’s lemon-juice face. Like cats.

She looked over at Conrad, wondering if that’s what he was feeling, and how she’d know if he was telling the truth. He looked miserable, even the fur on his tail looking mangy and uncombed, his hair worse.

Somewhere, she had a comb that could get through that mane of hair. She found it, the moment of rifling through her drawers giving her a chance to catch her breath. “Sit down,” she told him, her back still to him.

When she turned around, comb in hand, he was sitting on the floor where he’d been standing, an upset look on his face. She sighed. She was going to have to watch every word she said around him.

She thought carefully, while she tried not to laugh at the expression on his face, bringing to mind all of the not-quite-direct things she could remember people saying, before telling him,

“If you wouldn’t mind sitting down in the chair, I could comb your hair.”

He seemed to be testing it, because he didn’t move at first. When he did, it was with a relieved smile. “Thanks,” he said quietly. He stretched, set the cooler down, and sat in the chair.

She worked the comb through his hair carefully. “You haven’t been taking care of yourself.”

“Not really. Sorry.”

“Don’t…” she stopped herself. “You’re a lot of trouble,” she told him, trying to sound teasing and not dunning.

It seemed she failed, though; his shoulders slumped and he sounded depressed and unhappy as he replied, “I’m sorry.”

He reached back and grabbed her left hand before she could respond. He folded his hand around hers and squeezed gently. “I didn’t mean to cause you this much aggravation.”

“Then what did you mean to do?” she asked sharply. His hair was one giant tangle, and the comb kept catching in it.

He didn’t answer right away, but neither did he complain about the rather rough grooming he was getting.

“I don’t suppose you’d believe that I just wanted to give you answers?” he asked plaintively.

“Probably not,” she admitted, and then, out of an urge to be honest, “not anymore.”

He sighed sadly. “I was afraid of that,” he admitted. “It’s the biggest part of it, you know.”

“I believe you,” she answered unwillingly.

He squeezed her hand again. “I wanted to be close to you. And – well, I knew Taro would screw it up eventually. He’s not really smart enough for you.”

“Why?” she cried, even as the comb finally started sliding smoothly through his hair. “Why me?”

He twisted to look at her, staring at her intently, but before he could answer, she cut him off. “I’ve counted, you know.” The words spilled out of her. “I know how many girls there are. How many boys. And there aren’t a lot of single girls around here, if you don’t count the bullies, who don’t seem like they want a boyfriend. Everyone who can be is dating someone. It’s worse that high school! And there you were, and Taro, and there I was… it’s pretty obvious. I’m the girl you thought you could get.” The bitterness in her voice surprised her. “I’m the backup date.”

He looked as if she’d slapped him. She wasn’t sure she didn’t want to. “Kai…” He shook his head. “No, Kaia, no. Why would you think… oh, honey.” He took a breath, and twisted the rest of his way in his chair to wrap his arms around her waist. “Kaia, you’re beautiful and brilliant and sweet. And, whatever this school is like, I’ve never been the sort to need a girlfriend.” His face was pressed against her stomach, but she could still hear him clearly.

“I’m obnoxious and condescending. People don’t even want to be my friends.” Her voice sounded hollow and flat to her ears.

He looked up at her through his tangled mess of hair. “Who told… no,” he shook his head. “I can guess. People like Taro. People who didn’t know what to do with what you are, so they tried to make you smaller. But we’re not like that, my beautiful storm.” He was throwing nicknames and compliments at her so quickly that her mind was chasing its own tail trying to follow them. Kaia, that was new. Beautiful. My beautiful storm.

“Not yours,” she murmured softly, catching onto the one thing she understood, or thought she did, in his tangle of words. But he pulled his arms a little tighter around her waist and smiled up at her.

“No?”

“No,” she replied, not as certainly as the first time, though it seemed cut and dried. He just smiled wider.

“Not my possession. I don’t think anyone could own you, pretty lady. It’s how I knew Taro would fail; he couldn’t understand that. But my mistress. My owner. My Keeper.” He winked at her. “And you’re volatile, just under the surface, like a storm waiting to come in off the water. And no-one is ever going to argue that you’re beautiful, not even you.” He kissed her belly, over her shirt, and then slipped his hands inside her shirt, resting on her waist.

She could tell him no. He’d have to stop if she told him to. But his hands were warm and gentle, and he wasn’t doing anything all that bad. Just touching her stomach and her hips.

“So, my mistress.” He lifted the shirt and kissed her navel. “And a storm. And beautiful.” He looked up at her again with the most soulful puppy-dog eyes she’d ever seen. “So can I call you my beautiful storm?”

She didn’t like him asking permission for everything. She didn’t want to think of herself as the sort of person who would withhold permission, the sort of dictatorial girlfriend who would make her boyfriend follow three steps behind her, carrying her purse, like ‘Lisha had said. And “beautiful storm” was pretty cool, even if it was disturbingly close to the things Taro had called her.

Her hands were still tangled in his hair, although she’d given up on the comb. She kissed his forehead, and ignored the thrill of panic shivering through her as she tossed away her caution. “You can call me whatever you want.”

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