Chapter 94: Shahin
A week without you
Thought I'd forget
Two weeks without you and I
Still haven't gotten over you yet
She’d insisted she could make it through classes. She couldn’t hide in her room forever, and she hated to look so fragile. Besides, while her senses still felt overtasked by the slightest stimulation, she was learning how to deal with it.
Being away from Emrys was harder than she’d imagined possible, however. By third period Asian History, she found herself clinging to his hand, and letting go to separate for their fourth period seemed like the most difficult thing she’d ever done.
By unspoken agreement, they sat together at lunch, off in a corner, as isolated as they could manage. She wasn’t up to dealing with Agatha, and she wasn’t certain he was up to dealing with Ayla and Vi.
Thus, it was with a certain sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she watched him glance up from his food, looking over her shoulder. What now? Jaya and Kaia were cute, but she wasn’t even feeling up to kitten-baiting today. She watched him, rather than turn around. She didn’t want to see it coming if another dragon was behind her.
“Finnegan?” he said questioningly. “What’s up?”
She fought not to show her relief in her shoulders as the slim boy pulled up a chair across the table from them. “Hey. I don’t know if anyone told you, since you were… gone… when the announcement was made, but Regine’s doing this cy’ree challenge things…?”
“Cy’ree challenge?” She barely knew the word cy’ree, and wasn’t certain she’d met all of hers yet, certainly not well enough to pick them out of a crowd.
He nods. “A sort of academic game show thing, where the different cy’ree compete against each other. The prize is a field trip for the winning cy’ree.” He looked a little worried about that.
“A field trip?” Emrys said. “Interesting... how long do we have to prepare?”
“Three weeks. Well, three weeks from this past Saturday. We were going to get together Wednesday night after dinner to work on it…?”
“We as in...?”
“Cy’Drake. We’ve been meeting in my old room or Niki’s, since, well, you’re the only one of us with his own room.” He didn’t quite look at either of them as he said it.
“What happened to Rafe?” Emrys asked sharply. Shahin tried not to jump as his tone, instead squeezing his hand lightly, watching their tattoos dance together on their fingertips.
“He somehow ended up with a boyfriend and a girlfriend, so his room’s a little bit crowded.” This time, the boy actually blushed.
Emrys laughed, shaking his head. “Good for him, then. Right. My room it is.”
Shahin tried not to wince, realizing this would mean even more time apart. But she’d have to get used to that eventually, wouldn’t she? She couldn’t dictate all his actions anymore. And maybe there’d be something to do with her own cy’ree, whoever they were.
Emrys was looking up again, though; what now? “Shahin?” came a mousy voice from behind her. She knew that voice, and tried to place it as she turned to take in the matching mousey figure and chestnut hair. A girl from her Biology class, Kendra, she thought. She’d been part of Jaya and Kaia’s plans, hadn’t she? Kept by that overblown Tinkerbell, Ofir. The girl looked nervous and jittery, so Shahin managed a gentle smile to go with her quickly-becoming-customary soft voice.
“Kendra, right?” The girl nodded nervously. “Have a seat. What can we do for you?”
She sat quickly, smoothing her skirts. “Um. Well. I’m in your cy’ree now,” she said hurriedly.
Well, speak of the devil. Shahin widened her smile a little more. “Is this about the cy’ree bowl I just heard of?”
“Oh, um, I guess it is, yeah. So, you know about it, then?”
“Finnegan just told us it exists.” She gestured at Finnegan and Emrys, still in conversation on the other side of her. “But, since we were… away… we haven’t really heard anything at all…?” Maybe if she led enough, the girl would start talking.
“Well, it’s like, a trivia contest thing? But we need to get together, the whole cy’ree I mean, and plan for it? So, um. If you’re available, sometime...?”
“You and I and who else?” she stalled, struggling with a bit of panic. She could do this.
“Callista, Carter, Eris, Nikolai, and Channing. Seven of us altogether. Although only four at a time do the thing... we’ll figure out the plans for that when we meet up.”
“Okay,” she nodded. Callista, that was the bartender with six arms; she had Lit with her and Nikolai, who had those neat tusks. She had Trig with him, too, and Carter, who sat in the back and said little, and Channing, with those interesting rainbow… things… interspersed with her hair. “I know most of them. I’m free Wednesday night after dinner, if that works?”
“That works, yeah,” the girl nodded with a relieved smile. “Um. We meet in Carter’s room?” She said it like she was asking permission.
Shahin resisted the urge to look at Emrys for her own permission, but her hand clenched on his. She couldn’t remember ever before wondering if a stranger’s home was safe for her. “If you tell where it is, I’ll be there,” she agreed.
Kendra gave her directions to the pod, but Shahin was already tuning her out, lost in her own contemplations. She didn’t remember the girl being that skittish early in the year – shy, yes, but friendly, smiling and joking with the other Fifth Cohorts. She’d seemed as much like a normal girl as anyone here could. And now, with her little mouse nose, she seemed timid and terrified. Was it her Change – or the adorable pink collar around her neck?
Whatever it was, the difference was obvious as the girl stood again, nervously crossing her arms in front of her. “So we’ll see you later then,” she squeaked in a single breath.
“I’ll see you after dinner,” she agreed, nodded gently. Academic challenges. None of the members of cy’Pelletier had struck her as the most brilliant, but they didn’t seem that slow, either, just sort of middle-of-the-road, trying-to-get-by. Academically, if she had to admit it, that was about where she was. Cy’Drake, on the other hand, if Emrys was an indication… she looked at him and Finnegan thoughtfully.
Emrys glanced back at her as Finnegan rose to leave, and tilted his head in question. “What’re you thinking?”
“You,” she smiled.
“You. And cy’Pelletier, and cy’Drake, and this challenge.”
“Cy’Drake, much as we’ll put up a good fight, probably won’t be taking it home. We don’t have a single member older than Fourth Cohort.”
“I haven’t even spoken to most of my cy’ree.” She frowned. “I haven’t spoken to most of the school. But, that aside, I’m not,” she swallowed her pride, “all that certain I’m going to be that good at this sort of thing.” And she wasn’t sure she wanted to win, either, if it meant a field trip away from him.
“Well, you may have a secret weapon in Callista. If she’s allowed to compete.”
Callista, with the metal collar and the cuffs on all eight limbs, who sometimes came to class looking as if she hadn’t slept. “If they don’t allow Kept to compete, I think my cy’ree will be a little thin on team members.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll technically be allowed to play. I just might not let her make the call at a crucial moment, y’know?”
She winced, and nodded slowly. After what they’d talked about with the others, it seemed like such a small thing, but… “Keepers aren’t going to want to let their Kept out of their sight for that long, are they?”
“The field trip? Probably not. But they’ll have no choice - if the Kept’s cy’ree can pull it off.”
A thought was percolating through her mind. “Are there Kept in your cy’ree? Finnegan, right?”
“Yeah, and I’m not sure about Niki this year.”
“Kendra and Callista in mine,” she pondered. “Bowen, Nydia, Shera…?”
“Bowen’s Fridmar, not sure about the others. What are you up to?”
“Nothing yet,” she admitted. She set her second hand atop their clasped fingers. “As loathe as I am to admit it, I don’t know how well I’d do apart from you right now. But…”
“Is it that odious, to want to be close to me?” he asked softly, though the quiet merriment sparkling in his eyes showed her he was more jocular than insulted.
She smiled back at him, but her answer was a little more solemn than his question. “It’s never pleasant to admit weakness, is it?” She traced the lines of fiery tattoos on his fingers. “Would you like it, being away from me for… however long this field trip would last?”
His fingers clenched and unclenched under her touch. “No, I can’t say I would. What do you want to do, then?”
“What I want,” she murmured softly, “and what I think we ought to do are, sadly, different.”
“I’d like to hear both of them,” he responded just as quietly.
She leaned in, so that her lips were nearly at his ear, to answer. “I want to throw the contest so that we don’t have to be apart. But I think we ought to make sure the highest number of… badly-kept Kept get a vacation.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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