Chapter 56 - Kailani
And I want (Take me)
And I need (Tame me)
And I lust (Make me)
Animal (Your Animal)

By Sunday evening, Kailani was deathly sick of chicken broth, even if Conrad had floated little purple chive flowers in the last bowl. She was feeling, if not her normal self, at least not completely enervated, and she was sick of lying in bed. Even doing homework had lost its charm; she’d gotten bored enough to read Conrad’s homework as well, and nearly bored enough to do it for him.

He wasn’t faring much better; even she could tell that. He’d been pacing back and forth between the living room and his bedroom since noon. He wanted to do something. He wanted, she thought, to hurt whoever had hurt her. Since they didn’t know who that was, and since he’d told her he’d stay by her side, he was stuck here as much as she was, pacing. Champing at the bit.

She giggled at him as he came in, again, carrying some cookies this time. He and Mabina-and-Cassidy had been baking.

“What?” he asked, setting down the plate full of cookies on her lap and offering her a glass of milk.

“Champing at the bit,” she explained, still giggling. It wasn’t all that funny, the image of him in a halter like her favorite gelding (which he certainly wasn’t!), but she couldn’t seem to stop laughing.

“Are you having a relapse?” He checked her forehead with the back of his hand, grimacing. “You’re not feverish. But I don’t know what your symptoms ought to be, either.”

She calmed herself down with effort. “I’m okay,” she reassured him. “That is, I’m not getting worse. I just had a funny thought.”

“I thought you might have.” He smiled gently at her and sat down on the edge of the bed, stealing a cookie from her plate to nibble on. “Care to share?”

“Um…” It didn’t seem all that funny when she contemplated how to explain it. “You didn’t like the wood shavings comment,” she temporized.

“Wood shavings? Oh.” He kissed the top of her earlobe. Her very human earlobe, not pretty and pointed like Mabina-and-Cassidy’s. “It came out of nowhere, that’s all. I’m getting the feeling you dealt with animals a lot more than you did with people, back home?”

“Yeah,” she muttered. “Animals are easier to understand.”

“It’s not that bad of a place to start, especially when you’re dealing with Ellehemaei.” He held up his tail, smiling a little bit at her. “And if it helps you figure things out, that’s okay.”

“Okay,” she echoed.

“As long as you’re the sort of person who lets their pets sleep on the bed with them,” he added. “I don’t like sleeping on the floor that much.”

“Oh! Oh, of course. It’s your bed, anyway.” She grabbed a cookie, just to divert her attention for a minute. It was delicious, warm and gooey. She couldn’t bring herself to be surprised that the fairy godparents made good cookies.

“So, I’m champing at the bit, am I?”

“You kind of seemed that way. Impatient. Ready to be doing something else.” She smiled shyly at him, glad he seemed to understand. “It was a funny image, that’s all.”

“Image? Oh!” His face turned purple and he studied his cookie as if it were really, really interesting, his tail curling between his ankles. “Let’s, ah, save that for advanced lessons in dealing with people, okay?”

“Save what?” She blinked at him, wondering what he’d thought she was talking about. Could he really… he was looking even more intently at his cookie, making a tiny little noise, almost a whimper. “Oh, oh god.” She looked back at the plate of cookies. “Really?”

He coughed uncomfortably, but she couldn’t help asking. “People really do that?”

“You could ask-” he coughed. “Well, I guess you could. Ask Ivette. She could probably explain better than I could.”

“I could ask the Thorne Girls.” She was already paying the Thorne Girls for their information, after all.

“Oh, god, no!” He shook his head, his ponytail thumping on his back. “Please, no. Ask Ivette. She’ll answer just to watch me squirm.”

“Okay…” She ate another cookie. “These are really good, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. They’re not too rich for you?”

“I’m not sick, you know.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m just… enervated. Drained. The doctor said to eat, remember?”

He flopped a little bit, his tail going limp. “I know. I’m just worried. I don’t know what to do to help, and I hate that.”

She tugged the ponytail holders out of his hair and ran her fingers through the resultant poof. “I don’t think there’s much you can do. Someone stole my energy, and I just have to rebuild it. I’m feeling better already, so it’s working.”

“Good.” He leaned into her grooming. “That feels really nice.”

“It should.” She kept it up. “You have nice hair for this, too. It smells wonderful.”

“Thanks.” She watched the tension in his shoulders slowly release, and grabbed his hairbrush off the nightstand to really go to work. “You must have been really great with animals.”

“I was. “ She shrugged uncomfortably. “They don’t lie. And they’re not offended it you say the wrong thing. And they’re good at what they’re good at, and it’s okay that you’re good at what you’re good at.” She swallowed. “I didn’t mean to say all of that.”

“I have that effect on people.” He tried to shrug forward, but her hands in his hair pulled him up short. He went still and tense. “I could try not to, if you’d like.”

She tugged on his hair, pulling him back towards her. “As long as it’s just between you and I, I think it’s okay. You’re not…” She fell quiet as she noticed the small noise he’d made, a kind of swallowed whimper, and the curve of his spine as he arched towards her. She let go of hair hurriedly and began brushing him again, taking exaggerated care with each stroke.

“Not?” he asked.

“Not?” She traced the conversation back. “Not judging me. I mean, I don’t know if you’re judging me or not, but you don’t act like people do around me. You don’t laugh at me.”

"Well... no, Kaia. I like you for who you are."

"Oh." She blinked. "Why? I mean..." She shook her head. "That's the bond, isn't it?"

"No, Kaia," he laughed. "That's why I was willing to get into this at all."

"Now you're laughing at me." She brushed a little more forcefully than was necessary.

"Sorry... I know, you're still learning."

"I'm not used to that, to things being hard to learn.” She calmed down, smoothing his hair with her hands and starting to pull it back into a ponytail. “I guess I should be. I’ve never been able to figure out social interactions. I don’t understand why you and the crew like me anymore than I could understand why people in school didn’t like me. It doesn’t seem to follow any consistent pattern.”

He twisted to look at her, his ponytail pulling out of her hands. “People aren’t consistent, Kaia. Not even to themselves, and certainly not between different groups.”

“They should be,” she complained. “Animals are!” She swallowed hard, and tried to remember not to shout. “All of the rest of nature is.” She sniffled, embarrassed to realize she was crying again. “Darn it, I just want things to make sense.”

He pulled her close to his chest, running his hands over her hair much like she’d been doing to him. “It’s okay, Kaya. You’re doing fine.” He cuddled her like she was a child, or a sick animal. “It’s okay.”

His hands on her, his warmth and compassion, released whatever hold she’d had on her tears. She cried into his shirt, sobs shaking her. “I… I…” She couldn’t stop, so she tried to pull away, but he just held her closer. He was strong, surprisingly strong. “I’m sorry,” she whimpered.

“Shhh.” He kissed the top of her head. “There’s no need to be sorry. You’ve had a really rough weekend.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, going limp against him. “At least, the second half of it was kind of hard. But that’s no reason to be getting sniffly all over you.”

“Hey, if you can’t get sniffly all over me, who can you cry on?” He supported her, gently, like she weighed nothing.

“Won’t ‘Bina yell at me?”

“For having a bad day? No, honey, of course not. Everyone has bad days.”

“Okay.” She didn’t know if he was right, but he understood his friends better than she did. There had to be a reason crying was okay and yelling wasn’t.

“Just relax, honey.” He rubbed her back in small circles. The simple assurance of being held, of acceptance, was more comforting than she’d imagined touch could be. It was like she’d imagined having a father would be, warm and protecting and understanding.

She pulled back, or tried to, but she was cocooned in his arms. It was her job to protect him. That’s what she’d agreed to.

“Calm down, Kai, it’s okay.”

He wasn’t going to let her go unless she commanded him directly, and she didn’t want to do that. He wanted to take care of her. She understood that much. He didn’t seem to understand or accept that that wasn’t his job, and he probably wouldn’t like it if she tried to tell him that.

She could distract him, though, and, at the same time, get out of this bed and feel a little better. “Conrad? I want to go outside.”

His whole body went still.


Chapter 56b - Kailani
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

“Conrad?” She ran her hands down his back cautiously. He had gone nearly rigid, the muscles in his back tight and corded, but as she touched him, he shuddered, shook his head, and pulled back a tiny bit, enough to look her in the eyes. “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head. “Outside. Right.” Still, he hesitated.

“Is that a problem? We went outside for our kaana class all of last week.”

“Oh.” He relaxed visibly, his shoulders dropping. “Like that. I can take you out there, sure.” He smiled, now, looking like himself again. “We could pack a picnic dinner, if you’re hungry, and go sit out on the meadow and watch the sunset.”

“That sounds nice.” She smiled cautiously at him, curiosity warring with the desire to just get out of this cave. “Let’s do that.” She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, biting her lip at the dizziness.

“Let me carry you.”

“No!” He stopped so abruptly, and looked so hangdog, that she fished around for some way to soften her adamant response. “Someone has to carry the picnic, right?”

He nodded, “I guess,” but stayed hovering near her while she stood, his hands inches from her back, as if ready to catch her when she fell.

“If I promise not to fall down, will you go make up the picnic?” She tried to not sound exasperated. She didn’t want to yell at him.

“You can’t really promise not to fall down,” he pointed out. It made him smile, though. That was good, right?

“I guess I can’t.” What happened if they promised something they couldn’t keep? “I can promise to call you if I can’t handle it myself, or if I do fall down.”

“Do you really want me to leave you alone while you change?” Hadn’t she been saying that? “Yes, please. I’ll yell if I need help.”

“If you think you’ll be okay…?”

“I’ll be fine, Conrad.” She bit back the “shoo” she wanted to append to that. “I shouldn’t need more than five minutes, okay?”

“Okay.” He left, tail drooping, and she began the embarrassingly difficult task of getting dressed.

Shoes ended up being the hard part – every time she bent over to slide them on, she grew dizzy and had to sit down again. After the fourth attempt, she decided it wasn’t going to be that cold out, anyway, and left them off.

Conrad barged back in as she was pulling her shirt over her head, startling her. She fell back on the bed with a thump and, too exhausted to even think about yelling at him, just finished putting her shirt on.

“It’s been ten minutes,” he murmured. “I thought…”

“I feel like a newborn kitten,” she whimpered. She didn’t want to start crying again, but this was ridiculous. “I can’t do anything without getting worn out!”

“Sure you can,” he coaxed, suddenly by her side. “You just have to take it slow. It’s just a temporary problem, Kaia, you can work through it.”

“Are you sure? I mean, what if it’s not temporary?”

“Then we’ll find a way to deal with that, too. But the Doctor said that you’d be all right.”

“‘All right’ is subjective,” she complained. “It could mean any number of things, depending on the speaker. I mean, what if ‘all right’ for the Doctor just means, ‘you’ll be able to walk and form coherent sentences? That’s better than I was yesterday, but it’s not good. It’s not me.”

“If you’re able to complain this eloquently, this soon, I’m sure you’re going to be fine.”

She glanced at his face. Was he teasing her? She was pretty sure he was teasing… well, he was smiling, at least, and his tail wasn’t drooping. If only his ears matched the tail… “Humans have to have body cues, too, don’t they?” It was a revelation she should have had a long, long time ago. “Like the way a dog’s tail and ears tell you what he’s feeling.”

“I am not a dog!” He sounded indignant for the first time about an animal reference, wrinkling his nose at her.

“Well, no.” She wasn’t sure how to fix this one. “Your tail’s all wrong for a dog, and the rest of you is clearly human, um, except your fingers.” She wasn’t sure if she was making it better or worse; the tip of his tail was thrashing angrily… like a cat’s! She really was a little slow today! “You’re more leonine than anything, if I was going to use an animal reference for you.”

“Aside from bits and woodshavings?” The challenge had gone out of his posture, and he was grinning again. Definitely teasing her this time.

“Well… yeah. Aside from that.” She shook her head. “We’re getting off-track and not getting outside. Are you ready?”

“Of course.” He held up a basket to demonstrate. “Are you?”

“As ready as I’m going to get, I think.”

“All right.” He moved close to her and offered her an arm; feeling pathetic, she grabbed on to the support he offered, trying not to lean too heavily on him.

“I could still carry you and the picnic.”

“I’ll feel a lot better if I can do this on my own. I’ll lean when I need it.” To demonstrate, she leaned a little more heavily on his arm.

“All right. Here we go.”

She’d expected him to head for the stairs up to the first floor; that was where Professor Valerian had taken them through the strange vortex to the outdoors for class. Instead, he headed downstairs, towards the store.

She hesitated at the top of the stairwell, pulling on his arm as he kept going. “Conrad…?”

He flashed a brilliant grin at her and backed up until he was even with her. “Trust me?”

“Yes?” As far as it went, at least. “But since we’re underground, shouldn’t the outside be up?”

“To the same extent that all the other physical certainties you're used to hold true here.” He waved his tail at her as a demonstration.

“Physical laws should stay constant,” she sulked.

“They do, for the most part; they're just not all what we all thought they were.”

“Oh.” She let him escort her down the stairs at a snail’s pace. “We’ll learn the real laws here, then?”

“Well, a lot of it, yeah. Some of it's still over our heads I think, the same way most people out there don't really understand advanced physics.”

She blinked at him. No-one ever suggested something was ‘over her head.’

Because they thought you were an insufferable know-it-all, or a perfect little good girl. She swallowed her first, indignant response. “It sounds like an interesting field of study,” she tried.

“Yeah, kind of. You might want to talk to Professor Drake at some point. He teaches Law.”

“Okay.” They were heading past the Store and Arcade, into areas of the third level she’d never explored before. “I’ve never even heard of Professor Drake. Would you introduce me?”

“I could, though I don't know him well. I haven't taken any of his classes. He keeps a tighter cy'rie than some. Um, students he Mentors.”

“I remember the term,” she nodded. He’d told her she’d miss out on having a cy’rie, having Regine as her Mentor. It didn’t seem like that much of a loss. “I guess I could…” she bit her lip. “I could talk to some of his Students then?”

“Yeah, maybe. I only know which are his from my cohort: Nikita, Emrys, and Rafe.”

Rafe she’d seen hanging around Kylie on occasion, but Emrys… he was the one who had put a collar on her classmate, Shahin. “I’ll worry about that later,” she decided. She wasn’t sure if she was brave enough to try to get an introduction from either Shahin or Kylie. “Where are we going?” She was trying not to lean too heavily on him, but she was getting winded.

“Out the back door. We’re almost there.” He turned down another hallway. “You have to close your eyes for a minute, Kaia, and keep them closed, all right?”

She was used to this from her kaana classes. “Okay.” She closed her eyes tight and gripped his arm more firmly. “Why are the doors built like this? And why can you walk through them with your eyes open?” Asking questions helped distract her from the helpless feeling, and kept her from clutching him to her like a surrogate purse.

“Luke told us the doors become visible when you accept this place.” She could feel his shrug in the way his arm lifted up and dropped. “I don’t know. When I came back from summer vacation, they were there.”

“I suppose it keeps people from running out the front door screaming when they first see the Changes, or after Hell Night,” she pondered.

“That's probably why,” he agreed. Under her feet, the tile shifted to grass.

“Are we outside now?”

“Yeah, you can open your eyes if you want.”

She giggled at the role-reversal and opened her eyes. The sun was warm and the air was sweet, the grass softer than carpet. A mowed path wended through tall grass and into small copses of trees, inviting her to explore. “This is beautiful.”

“I thought you might like it better than the plain field.”

“I do.” She released her hold on his arm and ventured forward hesitantly. She felt better just for the breeze on her face. “Why was this okay, when you froze all up about the outside at first?”

His face betrayed his discomfiture at the question. "Well... there's outside, and then there's outside," he hedged.

Her knees tried to buckle, and she turned to glare at him, as frustrated with her own body as with him. “Explain?”

“Not everything is as it appears. We're getting into that territory of things I can't easily talk about again.”

She took his arm again, trying not to fall down. “Wasn’t that the point of you Belonging to me?”

“Well, yes, you could make me tell you,” he nodded. “Or you could use your new skills and ask the air.”

“Ask the air?” She blinked. “Why didn’t I think about that? Idu kaana, idu kaana beta…” She sank down into a lotus seat on the grass and listened to the air.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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