Chapter 71: Kailani
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?

Tolly’s arms were surprisingly gentle and comforting as he carried her through the halls. He was so big, it was like being a child again… no. Not that. But somehow safe. Kailani lay limp in his arms, wishing she could lose consciousness.

He knocked on the door to Mabina-and-Cassidy’s suite, but it was Conrad that answered.

“Let her go,” he said, his voice low and quiet.

“I’m not sure she can walk,” the giant warned. She stirred, trying to sit up in his arms.

Conrad only spared another menacing glare for the big man before looking downward, setting his hand on Kai’s shoulder. “Kaia, love... are you okay?”

“I’ll be okay,” she said slowly, as Tolly gently lowered her to her feet. He was right, she wasn’t quite sure about standing, but Conrad was right there. She reached out for him before she could stumble.

He wrapped his arms around her protectively, taking a pointed step back into the room as he held her close, nudging the door with his toe to shut it in the giant’s face.

She wanted to protest, to say that it wasn’t Anatoliy’s fault, but she couldn’t, not and be honest with him. She held onto him, instead, nuzzling against his neck. “I need a shower,” she muttered softly.

“Of course. Come on, I’ll help you.” He led her gently back towards his room.

She leaned on him, because if she held on tightly enough, he couldn’t tell that her hands were shaking. But she was going to have to get undressed, wasn’t she?

Indeed, once they were safely behind closed doors, Conrad began slowly undressing her.

She held still, letting him. If she didn’t, he’d just worry more. He was going to be upset enough.

“What did they do to you, Kaia?,” he asked softly.

“I…” She shuddered softly. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He’d figure it out without her saying anything, anyway.

He gently stripped her naked, nodding slowly. “It’s okay, Kaia. I’m here for you.”

“Promise?” she whispered, not caring about Law, just needing to hear it.

“I promise,” he said, wrapping his arms around her bare skin. “I’ll always be here for you.”

She clung to him, not quite crying. If she started crying now, she wouldn’t stop. “A shower,” she repeated shakily.

“Let’s go,” he nodded. He shed his own clothes in a matter of moments, before wrapping a towel around her and grabbing another for himself on the way to the door.

She couldn’t look at him, but she couldn’t bear to be away from him, either. She held onto his arm as they headed for the shower, and clung to his hand as she gingerly began to wash herself.

Without a word, he took the washcloth from her and took over, his touch warm and gentle. She shied away for a moment, but this was Conrad – there was no-one in the world she was safer with. She relaxed into his hands, slowly letting the tears come.

A long time later, she smiled weakly up at him. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I feel human again, or, well…”

“Shh,” he whispered softly. “I know.”

She kissed him very lightly, but her brain was running again. She’d mucked things up so badly, again and again, by not understanding how things worked, and she didn’t, yet, even know enough to ask the right questions of Conrad. “I need to go talk to Dr. Regine.” The Director, at least, wasn’t under geas to withhold things from her.

“Okay,” he nodded. “I’ll come with you.”

She didn’t want to talk about what had just happened in front of him. If she had a way that he would never find out, she’d take it, but since that wasn’t likely, she wanted to put it off as long as possible. “I’ll be fine on my own.”

“You could barely walk not long ago. Just let me come with you. I love you, Kaia.”

She gulped. “That’s cheating,” she complained half-heartedly. He loved her, really? Would he still, if he knew?

“It’s true. You know it is. Let me be with you.”

“You’re with me,” she said, growing desperate. How was she going to get him to let her do this? “But I want to go talk to my Mentor alone.”

“You shouldn’t go out by yourself, Kaia.”

“I’ll be fine. As long as I don’t try to help anyone,” she added in frustration. He was just going to keep arguing, keep stalling. She grabbed the doorknob and headed out into the common room of the suite.

“Hey!” He followed her out of his room. “Kaia...”

“Stop following me,” she snapped. “I’ll be fine.” She stormed out before he could come up with another protest.

She slowed down at the stairs, remembering that there was a dragon on the loose and running headlong through the halls was unwise. Still, she was nearly to Dr. Regine’s office before she noticed that someone was following her. She twisted into a nook to catch sight of her stalker, hoping they wouldn’t noticed she’d veered.

He came around the corner, missing her hidden in a shadow, and frowned. Vlad. She sighed, and stepped out of her hiding place. “I’m here,” she told him.

He stammered something incoherent, turning puce in the cheeks. She didn’t want to talk to him, either, but she couldn’t just walk away. She hugged him briefly. “I’m going to Dr. Regine’s office.”

He nodded, still funny-colored under his green-tinted skin. The part of her that still felt scientific and sane wondered what color his blood was. Content that she’d done the bare minimum of courtesy, she turned back around and continued on.

He followed her more closely now, but didn’t try to talk to her. She was too grateful for the silence to wonder why, too grateful for the security of a friend to be upset at being followed.

When she got there, she turned to look at him. “Please tell Conrad I got here okay,” she asked him, feeling a little embarrassed for having run out on him. “I won’t leave until one of the crew gets back here, if you want.”

He nodded earnestly, and hugged her again. “That would be good, Kaia. Con or I will be back in just a couple minutes.”

“Thank you.”

The Director’s secretary announced her, and let her directly into Dr. Regine’s office. The Director’s assistant was there with her and, for a moment, Kai was afraid he’d stay. How could she talk in front of him?

He stood gracefully, nodded at her, and kissed the Director briefly. Kai found herself blushing and looking away: adults didn’t do things like that in public! But by the time she turned her head, she could tell they were already done. He slipped out the back door of the office, leaving her alone with her Mentor.

“How can I help you tonight, Kailani?” Regine asked.

How, indeed. Kai dithered, trying to decide how to start. “I keep messing up,” she blurted out while she thought she was still thinking.

The Director looked mildly surprised. “Your teachers haven’t said anything of the sort.”

“Not in classes. Those are easy. I mean, with people. More than out there – everything is more complicated in here. The, um, the stakes are higher.” She curled her hands around her stomach without meaning to.

“Is everything all right with Conrad?” There was a sharpness to the question that surprised Kai, but, really, Conrad was why she was here, wasn’t he?

“Yeah, I mean… no.” She slumped. ”I keep screwing up. I’m afraid I’m being a horrible Keeper.”

“It’s not an easy proposition, which is why we normally discourage first-year Students from attempting it. Remember to be patient and kind, and you should do all right. Conrad is a reasonably clever and well-balanced young man.”

Kai smiled weakly. “I’m afraid he’s going to hate me forever,” she confessed.

“Because you Own him?”

“No, because…” she trailed off, looking down at her feet. “Because I’m a mess at everything. He says he loves me, but how much of that is his being Owned? Can he actually feel a genuine emotion about me without the Keeper-Kept bond getting in the way?”

“Have you considered trading places to find out what it feels like to be Owned? In the interest of answering those questions, and assuaging your scientific curiosity?”

How would that solve anything? “Have you tried it?”

“No.” The Director dropped her head, looking something Kai would normally think was embarrassed or ashamed. “I have never subjected myself to being Owned.” She looked up quickly enough that the shame had probably been imagined. “If Conrad is content with you, and you continue to treat him as well as you can, I don’t think you’ll have a problem. And as for your fellow students – give it time, Kailani. You will adjust soon enough.”

“Thank you, Dr. Regine.” She didn’t want to adjust. She didn’t think the Director understood the problem at all.

But you never got that temper from your father. A real ice cube, he was. So was the Director. Her Aunt. She wished it was a dominant trait.

“Any time I can help, Kailani. You’re always welcome to stop by.”

For all the good it will do. Feeling, if anything, worse than when she started, she left the office.


Chapter 71b: Kailani
But I've got to get a move on with my life
It's time to be a big girl now
And big girls don't cry

Aren’t Mentors suppose to help? Kai wandered out of Dr. Regine’s office, feeling more despondent than when she’d entered. Mabina&Cassidy had helped her more than the Director, so far; maybe she should have listened to the crew and not taken Regine as a Mentor at all.

She’d thought, being a scientist, the Director would be able to help her, to better understand her in ways that her fellow students never had. Well, the helpful voice in the back of her head offered dryly, if you’d gone to her with a scientific problem, maybe she would have. Instead you went whining about romance and didn’t even tell her what you’d done. She didn’t want to tell anyone what she’d done, but she needed advice on how to proceed. She was still certain that, given the option between what had happened and leaving Conrad in Agatha’s clutches, she’d done the right thing. She just wasn’t sure anyone else would agree with her.

The hallway outside Dr. Regine’s office was empty, no Vlad in sight. She could just walk back to the suite on her own – she hadn’t promised Vlad that she’d stick around – but if he missed her, coming back, then they’d be wandering around in circles looking for each other all day.

And you’re scared. Scared of dragons, scared of Agatha, scared that her shame was visible to anyone for the looking. And ashamed that walking down the hall had suddenly become a frightening thing. Where had the strong, independent girl her mother raised gone?

Your mother sold her to a breeding factory. She twitched, feeling tears threatening again. Maybe she could make it rain here, that would cover the tears – although it would probably look a little strange. Where was Vlad? She just wanted to go home. Just wanted to hide.

“Hey, everything all right?”

She yelped, startled – she never failed to notice people around her, how had she missed that, where was her purse, oh god, had she offended someone again and what was it going to cost her this time – and swallowed a whimper, trying to seem calm. Probably failing. Certainly failing at beingcalm. Where was a thunderstorm when she needed one? She smiled nervously at the person in front of her. People. She’d seen them both around – sometimes hanging out with the very intimidating Magnolia before and after Calculus, or around the far-less-scary-but-apparently-gender-uncertain Jamian (-mia? How did that work, anyway?), around American History and PE – but didn’t know their names or share any classes with them.

“Hi,” she squeaked, mortified and more scared than she wanted to admit. The blonde boy looked friendly and safe, but her judgments of people seemed to be entirely off-base. The girl, on the other hand, looked sharp and aggressive, if you discounted the tabby-cat ears and the lazy smile.

“Sorry,” the girl was saying. ”I didn’t mean to startle you.” Her ears folded back along her head, ears like she’d sometimes wished Conrad had – Kai stifled another sob. ”Oh, shit, I’m sorry. Here.” She offered a tissue like dealing with crying girls in the halls was no big deal to her – and maybe it wasn’t, here.

“Thanks.” Kai took the tissue and dabbed at her eyes.

“Bad day?”

“I… yeah.” She flopped against the wall. ”Aren’t Mentors supposed to be helpful?”

“You’d think,” the blonde boy said dryly. ”Who’d they stick you with?”

“Dr. Regine,” she sighed. ”I thought it would be a good idea. But… she just doesn’t get it.” She cringed, realizing she sounded like every bad teenaged stereotype.

The girl laughed. ”Yeah, that’s Regine for you. Don’t let it bother you too much, though – it’s not you, it’s her.”

“Thanks,” she sniffled.

“Anything we can help with, maybe?” she continued casually – but Kai noted that the girl’s tail was very, very still.

“I can’t afford any more help,” she answered, hoping she didn’t sound rude. She couldn’t afford any more enemies, either.

“You’ve been talking to too many upperclassmen,” the boy laughed. “Hi, I’m Ty, this is Shiva.”

She shook their hands, now even more bemused. ”You aren’t Fifth Cohort. You weren’t at the first-day announcements.”

“No, but there’s upperclassmen and then there’s upperclassmen,” he retorted. ”And the wrong sort can get you into all sorts of trouble.”

Oh, yeah, or you can get the right sort entangled in your messes. She curled her arms around her stomach again, holding herself tightly. What was she going to do?

Shiva looked sharply at her, and turned to Ty, poking him in the ribs. ”Off with you. It’s girl talk time.”

“But...” he protested.

“Irrelevant. Go!” She waited until he’d rounded the corner, then turned back on Kai. ”Walk with me?”

“I…. I can’t.” She shook her head nervously. ”I told him I’d wait here.”

“Ah, okay. Then I’ll wait with you, if that’s all right?”

“I guess so.” She was being rude again. ”I mean, sure, if you want to.” And that wasn’t any better. She bit her lip.

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re Kai, right? The Fifth who ended up Owning her wannabe Keeper?”

“I don’t Own Taro,” she demurred. Shiva laughed, startled.

“Oh, that’s right! You Own Conrad, though, right?”

“Yeah. For now.”

“Hey, what’s up?” At Kai’s sudden cringe, she continued intently. “Look, I know a lot of the upperclassmen are a bunch ass… of jerks. But I promise you that I won’t ask any recompense for talking with you today.” The air shimmered and popped with the promise. ”You have that feeling like something’s weighing on you,” she continued. ”And I can’t promise I can fix it, but sometimes it helps just to talk about it?”

“I…” she gulped. ”Maybe I can… practice on you? I’ll have to tell Mabina eventually, and she’ll yell at me.” She cringed just thinking about it. ”I made a real mess of things.”

“We all do, our first year. Sometimes we’re just sort of wandering around the cliff edge, not knowing it’s there, and some asshole pushes us over.”

“I should have known the edge was there, though. Conrad told me.” Over and over again. And she had thought he was being overprotective.

“Hey, a month ago you thought magic was a myth, didn’t you? Don’t be so hard on yourself.”


“No.” She shook her head vehemently. ”Cut yourself some slack. It’s a new place, with new rules, and people cheat all the time.” Her tone got quieter and more gentle-seeming. ”Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Agatha...” she began, and then, over Shiva’s shoulder, she saw the top of Conrad’s head. “Conrad?”

He approached quickly, walking in a way that wasn’t actually running but showed his clear intent to get somewhere in a hurry. “Kai,” he said, his tone sounding relieved. Shiva stepped adroitly out from between them. “All yours, sport.” She patted Kai’s shoulder lightly. “Come by and talk sometime, okay? Free gratis.”

“Okay,” she murmured, her eyes on Conrad. Was he angry with her? “Shiva,” he said neutrally, nodding to the other woman, before turning to Kai. “Did Regine help?” “No,” she answered, her frustration exploding all over again. “Oh,” he frowned, reaching out to put an arm around her. “I’m sorry.” She leaned into his arm. “Maybe Mabina can help. But I don’t want her to yell at me.”

“No one’s going to yell at you, Kai. We just want to help you.”

She rested her forehead on his shoulder, wishing it could be true. “You were right,” she whispered, hating it. “I dove in headfirst without thinking, and it hurt everyone – and we didn’t even help Bowen!” “It’s okay. We all made mistakes our first year. Very bad ones in many cases.”

“I…” She’d have to tell him eventually. “Tolly, he…” She gulped hard. “He was gentle. But… I didn’t want him.”

“And Agatha made you...?” He held her tightly, looking down into her eyes, his own warm with concern.

She nodded. ”Agatha made us,” she whispered.

He blinked, caught by her wording. “Did Tolly not want to?”

“She didn’t… she didn’t,” she gulped, trying to force the words out. “Didn’t hold him at gunpoint or anything. And I’m stupid about people. But he didn’t seem to want to.”

“Oh, Kai...” He kissed her gently on the forehead and just held her.

“You're not angry?” she murmured nervously

“Of course I’m not. It’s not your fault Aggie’s a monster.”

“You told me not to, though.”

“You can’t go through life doing whatever anyone else tells you to.”

She coughed out a small laugh and smiled up at him, wondering if he heard what he was saying.

“Well, not unless you’re Owned, anyway,” he finished lamely, looking down.

She hugged him tightly. “I’m scared,” she whispered

“It’s okay to be a little scared. I’m here to protect you, though, if you’ll let me.”

“Okay,” she acquiesced.

“Can we go home now?”

“Yeah.” She untangled enough to walk and claimed his hand in hers. “Let’s go home.”


Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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